Neighbors spotted smoke billowing from the roof just before 10 a.m. "All of a sudden, I saw the red fire. So, I run inside to my living room. I called immediately, 9-1-1," neighbor Kapseuk Woo told ABC7 News. Firefighters rushed to the three-story building where flames apparently broke out in a second-floor apartment and spread quickly. "When we opened the window, we saw a solid wall of flames coming out of that building on the left-hand side, smoke going up the hill," recalled Hubert Gronen who was visiting from Germany.
Down in the street, neighbors rushed home from work. "That does not look good," Jason Apaliski said when arrived. He lives in the building next door. Police say both buildings were built by developer Joseph Eichler, known for his modern homes with open-floor plans and also known for building homes that burn quickly. The buildings are part of a residential co-op. "The cooperative kind of works together. It's its own little community, so we know pretty much everybody in all the buildings. So anytime you see something like this happen, it's devastating," Apaliski said.
It is especially devastating when it ends in tragedy. One man died in the fire, a man neighbors say had lived there since the 70s when he moved in with his wife who has since passed on. Neighbor Richard Harrington said it could've been much worse without the quick response of the fire department. "They put it out very quickly. I have to say that within two minutes, the smoke was white steam. It was all done," he said.
Arson investigators are still working to figure out what caused the fire and while they do, nobody is being allowed back inside. The fire department says most of the apartments will actually be just fine once the utilities are turned back on. The only two residents who will be displaced live below the apartment where the fire started. Their apartment sustained damage from water.
If there is a bright spot in this story, it is that the apartment above the one where the fire started, which was completely gutted by the fire, was vacant.