Belmont building fire leaves dozens homeless

Fire investigators are trying to determine what started a raging fire at a Belmont apartment building overnight.

January 11, 2011 5:53:07 PM PST
The American Red Cross is helping nearly two dozen people displaced by a raging apartment fire in Belmont. A pregnant woman was among those who jumped to safety from the second floor balcony of their unit.

Charred balconies and burned furniture are the only hint at the drama that unfolded in an apartment house early Tuesday morning on Carlmont Drive.

"It was scary. Talk about jumping from a flaming building, I've done that now," fire survivor Tom Cordell said.

The blaze broke out at 3 a.m. in the cold dead of night, and residents heard it before they smelled it.

"It was hard to breathe on the third floor," fire survivor Andrea Haynes said.

Black smoke filled 25 units and residents groped their ways through the choking darkness.

"It was totally black, and I was just holding the wall with my hand and just going down. I'm not seeing anything, it was black all the way down to the first floor. Then I ran out from the side door," fire survivor George Stoev said.

The most dramatic escape was from the unit where the fire appears to have started. An unidentified woman, who is 25 weeks pregnant jumped into the armsof a man described as her husband. He hoped to break her fall.

"She was going to jump because that room was fully involved," San Carlos-Belmont Fire Chief Doug Fry said.

The fire department describes their injuries as sustaining ankle strains and she is at Stanford Hospital. Four other people suffered smoke inhalation. The American Red Cross took some survivors into a shelter.

"They are understandably stressed at the moment, and they are trying to figure out what are the next steps," Olga Crowe from the American Red Cross said.

Many of the residents are glad to be alive, but they are also disoriented and confused.

"We're going through the Red Cross and have renter's insurance, but after that we don't know," Haynes said.

Many people are calling the pregnant woman's husband a hero, but others were heroes as well, as they jumped from balconies onto cars and the tops of cars.

About 50 people are now homeless. Many are going to spend the night at hotels, while others have already signed leases for new apartment buildings by the same landlord elsewhere in the neighborhood. The residents are very thankful for the way they have been treated. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.