SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KTXL) — One person died and six others had to be rescued Monday morning when a fire tore through an apartment in South Lake Tahoe.
Officials say South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue crews responded to a fire at a Pine Boulevard apartment complex around 11:15 a.m.
When firefighters got to the complex, officials said people on the second floor were hanging out of windows trying to escape the flames.
“One of the big challenges with this structure is that the layout had a stairwell going up inside,” explained South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue Chief Clive Savacool. “And so, the only way to access all four units was to go up this one stairwell. And so, the apartment fire downstairs used the stairwell as a chimney. And so, it basically made it impossible for anybody upstairs to get down through the stairway.”
First arriving firefighters could see people waving from the upstairs windows with no way to get down.
The rescuers quickly put up ladders and pulled six occupants from the upstairs apartments while someone on the first floor was able to escape on their own.
“And so, with the smoke they were dealing with, it was pretty surprising that they were still conscious and somewhat able to help themselves down the ladder with the assistance of firefighters,” Savacool said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation but Savacool said it appears the fire began in the bedroom of a downstairs unit, more specifically on a mattress.
The man who lived in that unit died as a result of the fire. Paramedics tried to revive him.
“They worked on him for about a half-hour. So, they gave him every chance in the world,” Savacool said.
The other occupants of the building are OK and none of the survivors had to go to the hospital.
Firefighters were able to contain the blaze to one apartment but the three other units sustained heavy smoke damage.
Savacool said firefighters prepare for scenarios like the one Monday and when the moment comes to put those skills to use, the muscle memory kicks in.
“And so that’s why the firefighters train on it. There’s a proper way that they’re trained on,” he said. “How to get people down ladders. And it paid off.”
The surviving occupants are staying in hotels Monday night. Savacool said several of them work for a local hotel and their employer is working with them to provide for all their needs in the aftermath of the fire.