An early morning fire gutted an apartment house at 119 S. 12th East, and investigators are looking into reports that at least one person may have been trapped in the blaze.

A witness said he thought he saw someone in bed in an upstairs room but was unable to get to him because of the thick smoke and flames. Salt Lake Battalion Chief Gordon Nicholl said firefighters tried but were unable to find anyone else in the building because of the intensity of the flames which shot 20-30 feet into the air.He said investigators will sift through 2 feet of burned rubble on the second story of the building to search for bodies and determine the cause of the fire.

James Burdett and Dennis Morgan were on their way to work at University Hospital about 6:20 a.m. Wednesday when they noticed the smoke and the flames.

"At first I saw the smoke and I just thought it was clouds, but then I saw the flames," Burdett said. He and Morgan ran into the building and began banging on the doors of the four apartments inside the two-story structure.

"The whole top area was engulfed," Burdett said. "All I could hear were boards falling from upstairs."

The men woke up the four people who were living in the first-floor apartments and crawled through the smoke to the second floor. Morgan said he opened a bedroom door on the north side of the building and saw something on a nearby bed that looked like someone's foot before a wall of black smoke engulfed him.

"It just came right out at me and I just pulled the door shut," he said. "I got a good mouthful. It was just all flames and smoke."

Nicholl said the structure was demolished and estimated damage at $50,000. "We're just lucky we didn't lose that structure next door. The roof was smoking and just ready to explode into flames," he said.

Portions of the burning roof fell in the narrow alley between the houses where firefighters fought to prevent the flames from spreading.

"I just can't commend them enough. Those guys took a whale of a beating," Nicholl said. "They were down in the alley to keep the fire that was roaring over their heads from off of the (nearby) house."

Five engines and 24 firefighters responded to the scene.

Burdett said the five residents got out safely, but some kept returning to the burning building to retrieve their belongings. "We just kept trying to get them out because they kept going in to get their stuff. We couldn't stop them," he said.

"I tried to get out as much as I could," said Jung Ho, 29. He said he felt the first floor was safe but stopped retrieving items when police threatened to arrest him.

His wife, Su-mei Ho, 29, said she and her mother, who is visiting them from Taiwan, "just hurried to get out" after they heard Burdett and Morgan knocking on their door. Su-mei is expecting a baby on Sept. 29.

"I got my TV and VCR and my passport," said Min-Kuang Liu, a U. student who lives in the other first-floor apartment. "You get really shocked and don't really know what to do," he said of the fire experience.