A ferocious blaze quickly gutted a three-story apartment building in Pico Rivera Thursday, leaving at least one firefighter and two civilians injured and some 300 people displaced.
The three-alarm fire was reported shortly after 3:30 p.m. in the 9100 block of Burke Street, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.
Firefighters arrived two minutes after the call and saw smoke and fire on all floors, extending into the attic, county fire Chief Daryl Osby said at an evening news conference.
Aerial video from Sky5 showed firefighters moving off the structure shortly after 4 p.m., and Osby said they needed to change strategy after the building suffered "structural collapse." By 5 p.m., firefighters had exited the building and were in defensive mode, using heavy water streams, the Fire Department said.
Smoke that towered above the fire was visible from much of southeast L.A. County before sunset.
Forty-five units in the building were affected by heat and smoke, Osby said. A total of 141 units were impacted by the blaze, and some 300 occupants were evacuated.
Tenant Danielle Rodeghier said the flames were swift and she felt lucky her loved ones were able to make it out alive.
“I called my nephew that lives with me, and I told him to get out of the apartment with our dog," she said. "By the time he got out with the dog, the apartment was already up in flames.”
One firefighter was hospitalized with minor injuries due to heat exhaustion, Osby said. Two civilians were also hospitalized with smoke inhalation.
Firefighters were expected to be on scene overnight, and an urban search and rescue team was set to go into the building. Osby said firefighters didn't believe anyone was trapped but couldn't be sure until a search was complete.
The blaze was particularly complex because the building — part of the Corsica Apartment Homes complex — has a common attic, meaning there's no barrier between units, county fire Inspector Medina said.
"Once the fire got into the attic, it just spread, and it caused the damage that you see," Medina said.
Firefighters worked to protect structures around the burning building, Medina said. Early in the firefight, smoke rose from the roof of a neighboring building, and firefighters could be seen working inside. Osby said firefighters were able to contain the blaze to the building where it originated.
A Sheriff's Department lieutenant said deputies responded to help with evacuations and crowd control. Several roads surrounding the apartment complex were also closed, including Slauson, Bequette and Serapis avenues and Burke Street.
The Red Cross was called to help residents, and an evacuation center was set up at Rivera Park Recreation Center, 9528 Shade Lane.
While firefighters on scene indicated that some evacuees whose units were the furthest away from the ones that burned were allowed to go in and retrieve belongings, Pico Rivera city officials tweeted that no one would be allowed on the premises Thursday night.
A tenant meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at the Corsica Apartments leasing office, officials said.
Many were gathered outside the building Thursday night, trying to come to terms with their upended lives.
“I’m pretty sure I lost everything, but my dog’s still in there," resident Bardo Aviles told KTLA. "Mother-in-law, son made it out, so that’s fine.”
Tenant Bianca Forest was also anxiously waiting to be reunited with her pets and wondering how life would carry on in the morning.
“Our dogs are still in there; I’m just worried about our dogs," she said. "And we have work tomorrow, we need our things. I can’t believe this happened to our apartment.”
Isabel Garcia said, above all, she was thankful her husband and daughter were both safe. But the damage did throw a wrench in the family's weekend plans.
“(Our daughter) turns a year on Saturday and we were going to have a birthday party for her here," Garcia said. "But we’re safe, that’s what’s important.”
Pico Rivera officials had been accepting donations for those displaced, but later tweeted that after "fellow residents came to the need of others in overwhelming support and generosity," no more donations were needed.