Firefighter injured, residents rescued from fire at retirement apartment building in Oakland

ByLena Howland, Anser Hassan KGO logo
Friday, October 14, 2022
Firefighter injured in fire at Oakland retirement apartment building
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A firefighter had minor injuries from a fire at an Oakland retirement apartment building Friday morning, where residents were evacuated and rescued.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Three people were transported to the hospital after a Friday morning fire at an Oakland retirement apartment building near Lake Merritt, as firefighters worked to evacuate and rescue residents.

The fire was at the Grand Lake Gardens apartment complex at 401 Santa Clara Avenue, which is a six-story retirement community about a block from the Grand Lake Theatre near I-580.

Oakland Fire Chief Reginald Freeman says that one firefighter had minor injuries. According to the retirement facility, two residents were taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure but were not injured.

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Crews responded just before 6 a.m., which Chief Freeman said started in an apartment on the fifth floor.

"The occupant stated that she noticed a power strip that was sparking, it caught a blanket on fire on the adjacent couch, and the couch quickly was engulfed in fire, she left the apartment and the door was open when she left her apartment," Freeman said. "If the door would have been closed, the fire would not have spread."

Once firefighters got upstairs, water wasn't coming out of the apartment's standpipe, a tool which firefighters would normally connect their hoses to. This meant firefighters had to physically carry thousands of feet of hose up multiple flights of stairs.

"There was an issue with the standpipe," Freeman said. "Upon our inspection Oct. 7, that standpipe was operable, there were no issues, but we did have issues with the standpipe."

Oakland Fire Chief Reginald Freeman provides information on a fire at Grand Lake Gardens retirement apartment complex.

Firefighters were helping residents in need evacuate down the stairs. A total of 85 residents were evacuated and at least nine rescues were made by firefighters.

"If it were not for the quick actions of our Oakland firefighters, this would have turned out to be a very, very devastating day for the city of Oakland," Fire Chief Reginald Freeman said.

Neighbors on Santa Clara Avenue watched dramatic scenes of seniors being rescued and helped down the stairs.

"I was on the balcony and saying I'm here! I'm ambulatory!" Gail Onion, a 75-year-old fire victim said.

Onion said she heard cries for help before the fire alarms went off and prepared for the worst.

"I called friends to say goodbye," she said.

RELATED: 2 firefighters, woman injured in large SF fire

It took firefighters nearly 30 minutes to get to her, passing by a hallway flooded with debris, broken glass and water on her way out.

"I happened to glance sort of and the doors are all charred my door was charred completely," Onion said.

She was only able to save a couple of Native American flutes from her collection.

"I am grateful and I'm glad my friends here are safe because some of them, I was just thinking how the hell are they going to get out?!" she said. "They can't walk, I mean it's just shocking,"

Groups of people covered in blankets were sitting in chairs across the street from the complex Friday morning as firefighters responded.

"We had citizens sheltering in place, hanging out of balconies, we had fire firefighters assisting residents through smoke-filled hallways, getting them out of the building. It was a very chaotic scene to say the least," says Battalion Chief Anthony Sanders.

Sanders says there was heavy smoke and fire damage on fifth floor, and water damage to lower levels.

He says knowing that the entire building had to be evacuated, he called for increased medical support and backup early on, which included assistance from the San Francisco Fire Department.

"Our companies that were up on the fire floor were bringing people out to the stairwell, and then we had probably three or four engine companies that were just moving people downstairs, out of the building," explains Sanders.

"At six in the morning, the emergency system went off and told everybody that there was an emergency. But we should all shelter-in-place," says Lois Blumsack, who lives on the second floor.

She says as smoke filled the building and water started to fill her apartment, she decided not to wait.

"When I started to find an inch or so of water coming in, I just said never mind sheltering in place. I put on my good walking shoes and found my way out," says Blumsack.

Grand Lake Gardens says that residents have been transported to Piedmont Gardens community in Oakland, and they are working on housing plans for Friday night. It is unclear how long the displacement may be.

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