Updated: 11:59 AM EDT Mar 27, 2017
Firefighters rescued at least seven people after a blaze erupted on the top floor of a three-story residential building in West Oakland, California sending towering flames and heavy smoke into the dawn sky.
Fire officials said at least one person was feared dead inside the building that houses a drug rehabilitation center.
Battalion Chief Eric Logan of the Oakland Fire Department said firefighters who entered the structure thought they saw a body on the third floor, but couldn’t reach the person before flames and heavy smoke caused them to pull out of the building.
“When firefighters first went in, they saw what might have looked like a body on the third floor, but the flames were so intense they had to retreat,” Logan said. “We have to get more of this fire out to see.”
About 8 a.m., Logan said the blaze was contained to the building or origin.
“It’s an old building,” he said. “We have to get in to fight the fire.”
The fire broke out just before 6 a.m. at the building off Interstate 980.
Logan said firefighters used ladder trucks to rescued seven people. Three people were treated for smoke inhalation and were in critical condition, he said.
He said 50 to 60 people lived in the building.
Fantazhia LaTonda, 44, one of the residents evacuated, was sitting nearly a block away from the fire huddled under blankets with her boyfriend, watching her home go up in flames.
She had just moved into the building two weeks ago.
She said the first and second floors house a drug rehab center. LaTonda lives in an apartment on the third floor, next door to where she said the fire started.
“I woke up to get a snack and I went to lay back down and I looked out the window and I saw sparks and I kept hearing crackling,” she said.
In a panic, she and her boyfriend attempted to open the door of their room but she said the door handles were too hot to touch. They opened the curtains of their window and began waving outside to get the attention of the firefighters.
“I was scared. I thought I was going to die,” LaTonda said.
The firefighters grabbed them through the window and pulled them onto the fire escape, she said.
She said, everything she owns is gone and now she and her boyfriend have to start from scratch.
“I was worried we weren’t going to get out. Just burning. That’s not the way I want to die. Burning,” she said.
Other residents of the building, joined by family members, were gathered outside an a nearby AutoZone store.
Covered in Red Cross blankets, many people stood watching the building burn with tears in their eyes.
Some shrieked as news came out of the unconfirmed fatality.
Children were clinging to their parents, with no shoes after escaping just in the nick of the time.
Tensions were high as the police attempted to tally the number of people who made it out alive. But many stood solemnly, blank looks on their faces, as they stared at the building.