California Apartment Fire Displaces 60 Residents

What caused a three-alarm fire that swept through an apartment building early Tuesday morning and displaced up to 60 residents remains under investigation, according to firefighters.

Marie Rwagasana said she was asleep in her third floor unit when she was awakened shortly before 1 a.m. by sirens as emergency crews began arriving outside the building at 2020 Santa Clara Ave.

When she opened her front door, the hallway was filled with smoke, forcing the 50-year-old woman back inside.

Firefighters rescued her by placing a ladder near her apartment window.

"I was shouting, 'Help, Help,'" said Rwagasana, who lives next to the apartment where the fire began. "Thank God they saw me."

The American Red Cross set up a makeshift shelter for evacuated residents at Immanuel Lutheran Church, which is a block away from the four-story, 35-unit building.

The agency also helped residents find temporary shelter at local hotels. Finding lodging for everyone took longer than usual because an Oracle convention in the area filled most of the hotel and motel rooms, said Jim Franz, Alameda's Red Cross director.

Alameda Fire Division Chief Gino Ilacqua said the fire caused about $750,000 in damage to the building and $350,000 to the contents.

Crews treated two people at the scene for minor smoke inhalation, he said.

Three units on the third floor -- where the blaze began -- sustained smoke and fire damage, according to firefighters. Two units on the fourth floor were also damaged.

Sharon Perlaza, who has lived in the building since December 2002, said she was awakened by someone knocking on her front door, telling her she should get out.

"The whole hallway was covered in smoke," the 51-year-old Perlaza said.

She fled from her apartment with her daughter, 16, and her 15-year-old son.

After sheltering at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perlaza returned hours later to the building, where she waited outside with her children to go back inside and look for belongings that were salvageable.

She said the unit sustained both smoke and fire damage.

"Everything is trashed," Perlaza said. "It's black."

As part of a mutual aid agreement, the Oakland Fire Department sent six rigs and 20 firefighters to help fight the blaze.

Ilacqua said that Alameda County dispatched five rigs.