Dramatic rescue at Los Angeles highrise blaze

'Thought I was going to die'

UPDATE: 3:30 p.m.

Firefighters made a dramatic ladder rescue of a man about to jump from a burning Los Angeles high-rise apartment building Wednesday and helicopters plucked 15 people from the roof as other terrified residents fled through smoke-choked stairwells to safety.

Six people were hospitalized, two in critical condition, including the would-be jumper, in the fire that occurred in a building where a similar blaze broke out seven years ago, authorities said.

Residents described a frightening flight to safety, as they tried to move down crowded stairwells that forced some to turn back and go to the roof. Firefighters were coming up the stairs as people with children, pets and the some elderly tenants moved slowly downward.

A panicked Cecilee Mathieson tried to push past in her rush from her 25th floor penthouse. When she reached the floor on fire, she could see the orange glow under the door.

“I really thought I was going to die today,” Mathieson said hours later.

Firefighters had been at an office building fire two blocks away when the blaze broke out on Wilshire Boulevard on the edge of the tony Brentwood section of the city, allowing a rapid response.

Gavyn Straus was swimming in the pool in the courtyard when he saw black smoke waft by. As the smoke grew rapidly, Straus knew it was no kitchen fire and he ran into the building dripping wet to alert staff.

A woman at the front desk was calling police, so he hopped on an elevator with a maintenance man to alert residents on the 8th floor, where they thought the fire was coming from. A man who had been sleeping answered the first door they pounded on and they realized they were above the blaze and ran for the stairs.

They were overwhelmed with smoke when they opened the door to the burning floor below.

“It was a black wall,” Straus said hours later as he stood barefoot on the sidewalk, still wearing his surf trunks with only a towel draped over his shoulders and goggles around his neck. “Someone ran out from that side and they were completely covered in black char and they could barely breathe.”

The person said their friend was still inside, but Straus said he couldn’t help because he couldn’t see anything and it was too hot.

Instead, he ran to the 21st floor, where he lives, to alert friends and other tenants he knew. No alarm had yet been sounded and he was surprised to hear laughter coming through the doors as people ate breakfast unaware of the danger below.

“Get out, there’s fire. Get out,” he yelled.

More than 330 firefighters responded and it took about 90 minutes to knock down the blaze, Deputy Fire Chief Armando Hogan said. Arson investigators are looking into whether it was deliberately set.

“It is suspicious right now," Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said.

Two 30-year-old men who were in the apartment where the fire began were in critical condition, and one was described as grave. Fire crews had to crawl on their bellies using bottled oxygen to reach the apartment where the blaze began. Five others were treated at the scene.

UPDATE: 10:30 a.m.

Los Angeles firefighters rescued terrified residents from the rooftop of a 25-storey highrise apartment building where a fire broke out on a sixth-floor balcony and sent choking smoke billowing through the upper levels. One person was critically injured, authorities said.

Officials said early reports that some people may have jumped were not true. Some people who fled to the roof of the building were rescued by helicopters. Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said the fire has been deemed “suspicious.”

A helicopter rescued people from the roof of the burning building. A crew member on the roof helped attach each person to line and they were hoisted into the hovering chopper one by one.

“We have rarely done rooftop evacuations for medical purposes. Rarely,” Terarazas said, adding that the strategy was “very effective.”

Deputy Fire Chief Armando Hogan said the fire was put out about 10 a.m., about 90 minutes after firefighters responded. Two people were taken to hospitals and six others had smoke inhalation, he said.

ORIGINAL: 9:50 a.m.

Firefighters are responding to a massive blaze in a 25-storey Los Angeles residential building. Authorities say there are reports that an unspecified number of persons jumped.

Firefighters swarmed the building on the city's west side Wednesday morning and people could be seen on the roof as flames and smoke rise from the sixth floor.

Fire truck ladders stretched up to the affected floors and streams of water could be seen shooting from the interior toward balconies, indicating firefighters were on those floors.

Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey says an undetermined number of persons were reported to have jumped from that or nearby floors. A large inflatable bag is set up on the ground on one side of the building. A Fire Department helicopter is hovering overhead.

“Persons (number undetermined) have reportedly jumped from that or nearby floors,” fire department spokesman Brian Humphrey wrote on Twitter.

A large inflatable bag was set up on the ground on one side of the building. A Fire Department helicopter hovered overhead.

The fire department said the fire was reported about 8:30 a.m.

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