Denver Residents Jump Three Floors to Escape Flames

DENVER -- Two people were injured during a chaotic escape from a burning apartment building in southeast Denver Monday morning.

When firefighters showed up at the Kennedy Ridge apartment complex around 4 a.m., flames were shooting up from the roof of building M.

Some residents, awakened by people yelling outside, said the flames were so bright they initially thought it was sunshine peaking through their window shades. But it wasn’t sunshine.

“I saw orange,” one resident said. “It was glowing and I felt the heat.”

Several tenants scrambled to help their neighbors.

“We saw a woman trapped inside,” said George Stahl. “She had two dogs… She tossed her dogs out first and we told her to jump. She jumped. My brother caught her."

Denise Surina told 7NEWS, “It was do or die. The fire exploded in my living room. Three men caught me at the perfect, perfect time. My feet didn’t even touch the ground.”

Surina’s neighbor wasn’t as fortunate.

Witnesses told 7NEWS that an elderly woman unfurled a rope ladder from her third floor apartment but didn’t quite know how to use it.

“We tried to tell her to turn around and (face the ladder),” said Tim Reigies. “She kept walking out forward and she just slipped.”

Ronnie La Tour lives in the ground floor unit below.

“I was pushing my wife out the window. Here comes this body. Wham! On the ground.”

La Tour said he peeked out in time to see several neighbors pulling the injured woman away from the burning building.

“The bone was sticking out of her skin,” he said, while pointing to his foot.

"In cases like this it is always chaos for us," said Denver Fire Department Spokesman Phil Champagne. "We come and people are on their balconies ready to jump. They're antsy. They are very concerned."

Flames were shooting 30 feet into the air when 7NEWS crews arrived on East Dartmouth Avenue near South Havana Street.

Fire crews said six units were heavily damaged by smoke, flames and water.

Twelve units were rendered uninhabitable because of asbestos, which was loosened by the fire.

Champagne said that asbestos will slow investigators down.

He said it appears that the blaze began on a second floor apartment next to the stairs.

“There was so much damage,” he said, “we may not be able to determine the exact cause.”

This wasn’t the first major fire at Kennedy Ridge.

On Oct. 18, 2010, a blaze tore through another building in the complex, heavily damaging 12 units. One of the tenants escaped the fire by rappelling down from his balcony.

In 2006, a half-dozen units were damaged and a firefighter was injured when fire swept through another building.

"History is always a consideration in any of these fires," Champagne said. "I think that when you have large complexes, you have a greater statistical probability of fires and I think we see more fires in larger complexes."

Champagne said it appears that Kennedy Ridge was built in the 70s and predates the requirement for a sprinkler system.

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