3-alarm fire in San Jose injures five, displaces 16

January 9, 2012 12:14:14 PM PST
Fire investigators in San Jose are trying to find the cause of a raging fire overnight that forced dozens of elderly residents to take quick action to save their own lives. Five people were injured and there is significant damage to the Mayfair Golden Manor assisted living center.

The apartment building full of sleeping elderly people was consumed with fire before firefighters could get there. It became obvious the community was going to have to help save the people inside.

"When I woke up, there was screaming and I looked out my window and saw it had engulfed the whole roof," said maintenance manager Bill Lopez.

Lopez is the maintenance supervisor at the Mayfair Golden Manor assisted living facility. He was one of about five men who helped pull the elderly from their burning homes.

"The lady started screaming in the window. She was still in there so I just beelined over there, ripped the screen off and picked her up and took her out," said Lopez.

There was a lot of neighbor-helping-neighbor going on as the fire continued to rage around 2:00 this morning.

"It could have been much worse," San Jose Fire Dept. Capt. Mike Van Elgort.

Firefighters say five people were hurt, but they were relieved everyone survived the fire. Victims gathered in the complex's community room to soothe and help each other.

"We did have several occupants who were injured. One had burns and a medical complaint. Some of the other ones had minor injuries including inhalation and minor burns," said Elgort.

This is an assisted living facility. The residents still exercise some independence. And one 96-year-old man demonstrated that independence after the fire. He went back inside his destroyed home and a translator, a Red Cross volunteer and even some firefighters couldn't convince him to come out.

"He is kind of stubborn, 96-years-old. I did my best to get him out from the room because I know the smell is very bad contaminate," George Hiu of San Jose.

The man wanted his passport, medication and his cash. His girlfriend finally persuaded him to come out and the fire department retrieved his belongings. Residents say that's the kind of community they have here - they're tight and they watch out for each other.

One of the victims is now in serious condition with third-degree burns. The other four victims are expected to be OK.