Crews Battle 5-Alarm Fire at Abandoned Youth Center in Stockton

STOCKTON -- A five-alarm fire broke out early New Year's Day along Center Street in Stockton.

It was an abandoned youth center behind Caesar Chavez Library on Center Street.

The building was supposed to be empty but with nowhere to go, it was where Taeler Harren, her boyfriend and a friend spent their New Year's Eve.

Around 2:30 Tuesday morning, the building went up in flames and Harren was woken up by smoke.

"It got too smoky to where I couldn't see," Harren told FOX40. "I was coughing, my chest was burning and as I was getting out there was no way out because they boarded it from the inside."

Her boyfriend and friend made it out safely but Harren's way out wasn’t as easy.

"My eyesight was blurry. I was coughing up blood. I didn’t know when I was going to lose that last breath," Harren said.

Stockton fire crews saved Harren and another person from inside.

Every engine and truck from the city and surrounding areas assisted in taming the flames.

Battalion Chief Brandon Doolan said the building itself made things difficult for crews.

"A lot of void spaces in this building," Doolan explained. "Some areas had two or three ceilings and roofs above them just from over the years of renovations and whatnot."

As a result of those void spaces, a firefighter fell through, injuring his arm. He is expected to be OK.

This isn’t the first time the Stockton Fire Department has been called to the empty youth center, especially this time of year.

"When it gets colder outside people are looking for places to get warm and a lot of these places don’t have utilities and they do what they do to stay warm," Doolan said.

Harren told FOX40 she is in this position because of drug abuse but it's now a new year. She said she's two months sober.

"I plan on getting my life back on track, you know, getting a job and becoming something I actually want to be," she said.

She said she hopes to be a probation officer or involved with law enforcement in some way.

Investigators said it's going to take some time to figure out what caused the early morning blaze.

If you know anyone looking for someone to stay during the winter there are homeless services available. Contact the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless at 209-465-3612 or visit their website to learn more.

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