Eight units destroyed in Rossmoor fire

July 23, 2011 12:17:25 AM PDT
An apartment building in the East Bay community of Rossmoor caught fire Friday night, leaving 13 people without a place to live. The retirement community is near Walnut Creek and this could have been even more of a tragedy had one man not taken action.

The fire gutted and completely destroyed the Roosmoor building. Residents could have gotten injured or even died, had it not been for the heroic actions of some people who answered an elderly woman's call for help.

"A lady in the unit up here was yelling 'Oh my God, help. Oh my God, help,'" said Jonathan Colwell.

Colwell was visiting his great aunt here in Rossmoor when he heard the screams. The fire badly damaged the eight-unit building at 1200 Running Springs Road. He helped evacuate all its residents with the help of a passerby, starting with the screaming woman. After the rescues, he then took some cell phone video of the burning building.

"We managed to get her out of the house. We went in with fire extinguishers to try to get it out, but it had spread too much so when we saw it went to the ceiling and was spreading to the walls, I made the determination we needed to just go and evacuate people," said Colwell.

Colwell says with thick smoke blinding him and three others who came to help, they went door to door.

"We banged on all the doors, all the windows, made several different passes," said Colwell.

One woman needed a wheel chair.

"We were able to get her into her wheelchair and then we just picked it up and kind of airlifted her out, carried her up the stairs and over the gravel and were able to get her and her daughter out," said Colwell.

Everyone got out of the building without injury.

"We saw the flames coming out quite high, as high as the trees there. And we came down and there were old people wandering around in their underwear, barefoot, just looking completely lost," said Ursula Reinhart, a neighbor.

"Thirteen residents have been displaced. At this point, we have no reports of injuries to fire personnel or the residents," said Contra Costa County Fire Marshall Lewis Broushard.

Broushard said all 13 residents were escorted to Rosmoor vans and taken a Red Cross shelter nearby. He also said the building has functioning smoke alarms, but it only has fire sprinklers on the first floor which houses the garages.

Investigators have determined the cause of the fire. The origin of the fire happened in the apartment of the woman who Colwell heard first screaming for help. Investigators are ruling this fire as an accident.


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