LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles firefighters rescued 15 terrified residents from the rooftop of a high-rise apartment building where a windswept fire broke out on the sixth floor and sent choking smoke through the upper levels Wednesday. Two people were critically injured, authorities said.
Smoke billowed through fire doors into stairwells crowded with panicked neighbors scrambling to get down and firefighters running up, said Dalia Kingsbury, who evacuated from her apartment on the 16th floor of the 25-story building.
“We didn’t know if the fire was going to come out of the door,” she said. “We thought, ‘It’s going to explode.’”
There were early reports that some people had jumped from the building, but officials later said that wasn’t true.
During the rooftop evacuation, a rescuer helped attach each person to a line and they were hoisted into a hovering helicopter one by one. At one point, firefighters lifted a small white dog into the copter.
“We have rarely done rooftop evacuations for medical purposes. Rarely,” Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said, adding that the strategy was “very effective.”
Deputy Fire Chief Armando Hogan said the fire was put out about 90 minutes after firefighters responded. Six people were taken to hospitals, mostly for smoke inhalation, officials said. Two of them were in critical condition. Two others were treated at the scene.
Kingsbury and her roommate Puja Oza got calls and texts from friends about the fire before they heard smoke alarms around 8:45 a.m. Still wearing pajamas, they ran with their golden retriever, Seymour, to the stairs, which were slick with water from fire hoses.
“I was shaking the whole time,” Kingsbury said.
Hogan said the cause of the fire is under investigation, with firefighters looking into the possibility it was deliberately set.
“Arson is on the scene doing an investigation,” he said.
Terrazas added, “It is suspicious right now.”
Hogan said one man was hanging onto the edge of the building contemplating jumping when firefighters managed to reach him and talk him out of it, then pull him to safety.
Once Oza and Kingsbury reached safety, the roommates glanced up and saw the man on the edge just before he was rescued.
“He was literally like Spider-Man,” Oza said.
With the flames doused, firefighters were going through the building to check on occupants.
“Right now, we’re doing a floor-to-floor search to make sure people are OK,” Hogan said.
Authorities said alert firefighters wrapping up a blaze at an office building several blocks away spotted the flames on a balcony of the residential tower, allowing a quick response by more than 300 firefighters.
Resident Gavyn Straus, clad only in swim shorts and a towel, said he was in the swimming pool when he looked up and saw smoke, ran into the building to alert a woman working at the front desk but found she was already calling 911.
Straus said he and a maintenance worker took an elevator to the eighth floor, where they believed the fire was. They then went down to the seventh floor where they opened a door and thick, black smoke came out. Straus said someone came running out covered in soot.
A fire also occurred at the Barrington Plaza high-rise in 2013, injuring several people and displacing more than 100. The complex has 240 units.
Fire officials said then that the building was not equipped with a sprinkler system. It was built in 1961 and wasn’t required to have one under state regulations saying buildings taller than 75 feet include such fire-suppression systems unless granted an exemption.
A phone call and email seeking comment from Barrington Plaza’s owners were not immediately returned Wednesday.
Associated Press writers John Antczak, John Rogers and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.