Once we thought we were getting it under control, then it spread again. I mean, the smoke was so heavy, I couldn't breath. —Sarah Serrato
SALT LAKE CITY — Firefighters battled both a three-alarm blaze and scorching temperatures Sunday.
Just after 2 p.m., fire crews were called to the City Park Apartments, 756 N. 900 West. They arrived to find heavy smoke and flames coming from the second and third stories of one of the buildings.
Panicked residents knocked on doors and windows to get tenants out.
"I went to every one of these windows over here. I knocked. I slammed on them. 'Is anyone in there? Is anyone in there?'" said Sarah Serrato, who lives in the building next door.
With a steady breeze and the temperature over 100 degrees, the fire moved up the walls and into the attic and spread smoke and ash over much of the area.
"Once we thought we were getting it under control, then it spread again. I mean, the smoke was so heavy, I couldn't breath," Serrato said. "When I came into the hallway and hear the 'pop, pop,' I said, 'Here it comes. It's spreading.' I knew it was spreading."
Reports from tenants about what happened varied. Some said they heard an explosion. Others did not. Some said they thought the fire started on the outside deck of a second-story unit, while others thought it started inside. All residents agreed, however, that the smoke was thick and the fire moved fast.
"We're yelling, 'Dude, the entire building is on fire. Get out,'" said Timothy Harding, who also helped evacuate the building. "I was like, 'No seriously, the building's on fire. You need to get everyone out of the building.' And he thought I was kidding until I went up and kicked the door in to get the lady out."
"It's bad man. I don't know what caused the fire. The initial guy who told me to call the fire department said there was an explosion. I didn't hear that myself. But I did see the big bowl of black smoke," Gregory Robbins said.
Jarick Hester and Kristi Stovall both fled from their apartment. They could only sit and watch firefighters climb on the roof of the building and cut holes in an attempt to ventilate it.
"We have our whole life in there — certificates, deeds," Hester said.
"I just moved here from Virginia, and this is my first apartment," Stovall added. "It's killing me inside because I'm living paycheck to paycheck. I don't make a lot of money. I can't get all that stuff back."
"I have my kids' pictures, all sorts of sentimental stuff that I won't be able to get back. This is my first experience for something like this," Hester said.
Salt Lake City fire spokesman Jasen Asay said there were no reported injuries Sunday from the fire. The cause was still being investigated but was believed to have started at a second-story unit.
All 30 units in the building were declared unoccupiable Sunday night, leaving more than 50 people to seek shelter elsewhere for the evening. The Red Cross was also on scene helping displaced tenants.
A third alarm was called primarily so crews could be rotated quicker. Asay said keeping firefighters hydrated and preventing them from falling to heat exhaustion was a challenge.
"We're joking that the water that they're drinking is just coming right out of them," he said.
Approximately 50 firefighters responded to the incident. The fire was brought under control in about an hour, but the cleanup and overhaul lasted several more hours.
"With fires like these that spread up the walls and into the attic, it's very important for us to locate every part of the fire and extinguish it," Asay said. "The fire, with this heat and this wind, is not going to go out by itself. So even if there's a little bit of fire leftover that we don't extinguish, eventually it will build up, the wind will blow it, and it will spread to the building again, and we don't want to put out the same fire twice."
There were smoke alarms that went off, he said, but there were no overhead sprinklers in the building to help fight the fire.