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Ravell Call, Deseret News
A burned blanket on the ground following an apartment fire in Salt Lake City, Thursday, March 29, 2012.

SALT LAKE CITY — Several residents of the North Aspen apartment complex could be out of their homes for several days because of a two-alarm fire Thursday morning.

More than 100 tenants of the Jordan Meadows neighborhood complex, 1722 W. 400 North, were forced from their homes early Thursday because of the fire. Approximately 30 people had to be rescued from their balconies with ladders.

Leonardo Hernandez jumped from his second-story balcony. The 11-year-old said he wasn't scared because he knew he had to escape.

"I had to jump from my balcony just to save my sister," he said.

Two-year-old Vincent, or Little Beans as his family calls him, is one of the children who escaped the fast-moving fire. His mother said everyone got out with only the clothes on their backs.

"All I could think about was getting the kids out. That's all I could think about," said Esther Morrison, Vincent's mother. 

Amazingly, no one was injured.

"We just pulled together," said resident Vincent Najera. "We helped everyone get off the balconies, caught a couple of babies coming off the balconies. It was chaotic. It was crazy."

The fire created a huge amount of smoke that filled the hallways. Salt Lake fire spokesman Scott Freitag said residents on the second and third floors did the right thing by going onto their balconies to wait to be rescued and not trying to escape through the hallway.

"There was so much smoke in the hallways, had someone actually gone there rather than waiting to be recused, they would have quickly been overcome by smoke or even died," he said.

The fire broke out about 2:40 a.m. It started after a tenant fell asleep on a recliner while smoking, Frietag said. Investigators believed the man either dropped his cigarette on the carpet or knocked over an ash tray where the embers smoldered.

"The fire traveled along the carpet and into the kitchen," Freitag said, adding that the blaze really took off when it reached the kitchen.

Some tenants of the 42-unit building were awakened by smoke detectors. Others were woken by other residents banging on their doors.

Hilary Hakala tried desperately to wake the man inside the burning apartment.

"Everyone starts leaving and panicking and calling 911," she said, "and then his door opens and there is flames shooting out of it."

In addition to the tenants, Freitag said several dogs, cats, birds and turtles were rescued.

It was very fortunate that no one was injured, he said. Crews only needed about 10 minutes to knock the fire down, about the same amount of time it took to complete all the ladder rescues, he said.

"Everything worked the way it was supposed to, and I think that prevented any injures or deaths to tenants or firefighters," he said.

The apartment where the fire started suffered heavy fire damage. Fifteen others suffered smoke or water damage, Freitag said. Total damage estimated was $150,000.

The Greater Salt Lake chapter of the American Road Cross opened a shelter at a nearby LDS meetinghouse, 1148 W. 500 North. The Red Cross provided food and shelter to about 90 adults and 30 children.

Freitag estimated about half of those tenants would be back in their apartments by Thursday night. The other half would probably be out of their homes a few days.

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