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Six units destroyed in 4-alarm Salt Lake apartment fire

Published: Sunday, Aug. 26 2012 2:35 p.m. MDT

Apartment complex at 1621 W. Snow Queen Place where Salt Lake City fire fighters fought a four-alarm fire at the three-story, 24-unit building where six units where a total loss due to fire, several other units suffered smoke and water damage Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Six units of a Salt Lake apartment complex were gutted in a four-alarm fire early Sunday that forced some tenants to take drastic measures to save their lives.

The fire was reported just after 1:30 a.m. at 1621 W. Snow Queen Place (1675 South). Firefighters arrived to find several units of the three-story structure completely in flames, said Salt Lake fire spokesman Jasen Asay.

"The flames were all the way from the first floor up through the roof," he said.

All residents were able to evacuated safely. Eight tenants were treated for minor injuries. The worst injury was  a 37-year-old man who cut his hand breaking a window while trying to escape. The man, who had a his hand tightly wrapped by doctors, was back at the apartment complex Sunday morning trying to find out if anything in his apartment was salvageable. He declined to speak to the media.

Another resident suffered an ankle injury after jumping from a second story balcony to escape.

Samantha Mendenhall was already in the process of moving out before the fire started, but all of her clothes were still in her apartment, which was destroyed.

"It's insane. I can't believe it," she said while wiping away tears, looking up at the remains of her third story unit.

Debris from the damaged building could be seen hanging in the trees around the complex Sunday. Asay said firefighters worked under difficult conditions to prevent the fire from spreading to other apartment buildings.

"Our firefighters were tested," he said.

The biggest challenge was the small walkway area that separated the burning units and a two-story parking structure.

"It was hard to maneuver and get the hoses through," he said. "There wasn't much room to work."

About a dozen other units suffered smoke and water damage. The fire was believed to have started on the outside deck of one of the second floor apartments that was destroyed, Asay said. An official cause had not been determined as of 1 p.m. Sunday.

Firefighters from West Valley and South Salt Lake assisted with the blaze.

The Red Cross helped displaced residents find shelter. A nearby LDS church, 1250 West 1400 South, also opened its doors to provide an initial shelter area Sunday morning.

Savannah Rust stayed at the church after her apartment was burned.

"Our apartment is pretty much cooked really, there nothin' left is what they're sayin'," she said.

Rust said she was awoken by her step-father's screams and saw the second floor - including the deck from the apartment above her -  all on fire.

"It was really scary. I thought it was not happening at first," she said. "What was going through my mind was, 'What the heck happened here?' Where am I going to live now?'"

Rust said there was speculation among tenants that a gas grill on the patio above her caught fire and exploded.

Aaron Hill, who lives in one of the buildings at the apartment complex that was not burned, said he heard an explosion.

Hill said he saw 10 to 15 foot flames shooting from the roof of the burning building. He assisted the fire department by knocking on doors to make sure everyone got out.

"I hope my neighbor would be there for me," he said. "In a time of need, we all come together."

Hill said he was treated for minor smoke inhalation.

Salt Lake City Animal Control was taking care of five pets that were brought to the shelter.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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