It was a losing battle for Stockton firefighter Jeff Whitlock , as he and 11 others tried to douse flames inside the burning Earle Hotel.
The thick, black, throat-choking smoke that filled the air, also lingered inside the empty, abandoned structure as firefighters struggled just to see Wednesday.
“You can’t see your hand in front of your face,” Whitlock, a 16-year veteran firefighter, said. “I know I couldn’t see the person in front of me. We didn’t know where we were going. All the stairwells had been gutted outta there.”
But they didn’t give up, despite the elements stacked against them.
“It was a tremendous amount of fire. and you could feel the floor was real spongy,” Whitlock said. “We directed hose lines to the second floor and the whole floor basically gave way
That’s when the battalion chief made the call to get out as quickly and safely as possible.
“We could’ve all fallen through to the basement,” Whitlock added.
Even after firefighters eventually extinguished the huge blaze, there was still an element of danger.
“Now, they just told us we had to leave cause the building might fall,” Mariano Tionson, who works at Louie’s Market across the street, told FOX40.
“We’re concerned about a full collapse, but also we’re concerned about bricks flying off and that could be dangerous as well,” Whitlock said.
“It’s kinda scary,” Tioson said. “If that would’ve collapsed, we wouldn’t have known nothing.”