San Jose, California Apartment Fire Claims One

A Willow Glen apartment complex where a bizarre, grisly 1995 fire killed a couple and two young boys was the scene of another tragic blaze Sunday that left a young woman dead and at least 25 people homeless.

San Jose firefighters battled a three-alarm fire that forced the evacuation of eight units at the Almaden Terrace Apartments, on Canoas Garden Avenue near Almaden Road and Curtner Avenue.

The blaze was first reported at 8:46 a.m., and firefighters arrived at the complex seven minutes later. About 60 firefighters contained the fire at 9:40 and declared it under control at 10:28, said fire Capt. Allison Cabral.

After the fire was knocked down, crews using infrared imaging equipment found the body of a young woman, burned beyond recognition, in the rubble. The coroner's office removed the body about 2 p.m. as dozens of her neighbors stood by. Many wept or looked on in stunned silence.

The name of the victim was not immediately released. The body was so badly charred that dental records will be needed to identify her, the coroner's office said late Sunday.

The woman lived with several other people in the second-story, two-bedroom apartment where the fire apparently started, several neighbors said.

``I was sitting on the couch getting ready for work when I heard a boom, banging and people running back and forth upstairs,'' said Roy Mouton, 51, who drives a shuttle bus at Mineta San Jose International Airport.

Escaped apartment

Mouton fled his first-floor apartment, directly below where the fire apparently started. He lost everything except a laptop he was able to carry out.

When fire crews arrived, windows were popping out and flames were shooting from his apartment wing, he said. Firefighters, police officers and neighbors ran from door to door to try to evacuate everyone in the two-story wing of the 262-unit complex. As a result, no one else was injured.

``Everyone really worked together,'' Cabral said.

The woman's roommates fled the scene, then realized she had not made it out. Authorities did not specify how many roommates there were, and did not identify them.

Cabral said the fire spread quickly through attics, so firefighters had to punch a large hole in the roof to keep it from spreading to the rest of the wing.

``The ventilation hole works like a chimney,'' forcing flames and smoke to shoot from the hole, away from other apartments, she said.

Several neighbors said they barely knew the victim or her roommates because the group had only moved in Memorial Day weekend. Neighbors speculated the group may have had leftover Fourth of July fireworks inside the apartment, noting that they had been shooting them off on the lawn and sidewalk near their apartment over the Independence Day weekend.

Cause unknown

Cabral said the cause of the fire remains under investigation. Police and arson investigators have been called into the probe.

Almaden Terrace resident Genese Holmes, who was evacuated from her home Sunday, said the fire triggered memories of the 1995 blaze in which a man stabbed his lover to death, set their bed on fire, and died embracing her as flames swept their apartment. The fire also killed the couple's 1-year-old son, and the woman's 5-year-old son. Her other son, 7, survived.

After Sunday's fire, George Williams, an American Red Cross captain, said that at least 20 adults and five children would probably spend the night in hotels or a shelter. But that number was expected to increase because other residents lost their utilities in the blaze, he said.