One person was killed and two others were injured Wednesday morning after a two-alarm fire broke out at an apartment building in The City’s Western Addition neighborhood.
The fire originated on the second floor of the Laguna Heights Cooperative at 65 Cleary Court near Laguna Street.
About 70 firefighters responded to the blaze, which Fire Department officials said was under control within 30 minutes. Crews were able to contain it to the building’s second and third floors. Out of 12 units in the three-story apartment building, two were completely destroyed and one was left with severe water damage.
The person who died on the second floor of the building had not been identified by the Medical Examiner’s Office as of Wednesday, but neighbors suspect that it was Roosevelt Watts, an elderly man who had lived in the building for more than 20 years.
Watts was a widower for almost seven years. Neighbor William Stargis said Watts was not in good health and had an occasional caregiver who had begun making more recent visits. Neighbors said Watts was a well-meaning person and was well-known around the building.
The woman who normally lives in the destroyed unit is currently out of town, neighbors said. Investigators have not determined the cause of the fire.
Ana Holian, who lives in the apartment building across the street, said she could feel the fire’s heat from her living room on the 11th floor.
“I was just sitting on my couch and then felt really warm all of a sudden,” she said. “My jaw dropped when I looked out the window and saw those huge flames.”
Two people suffered from smoke inhalation, but only one was transported to the hospital, said fire Lt. Mindy Talmadge. The other man, Stargis, 72, refused treatment despite medical advice.
Stargis said he was sleeping in his “emperor’s clothing” on the third floor of the building when two firefighters banged on his door and alerted him to the fire. Feeling embarrassed that they had seen him without his clothes on, Stargis asked the firefighters to wait for him to get dressed before allowing them to assist him downstairs.
“The minute I opened my door and saw all that smoke I thought, ‘Uh-oh,’” he said. “Luckily, I’m a shallow breather so I knew I would be OK.”
Stargis was anxious to get back inside of the building to eat the cookies he had made the previous night. He did not regret his decision to refuse medical treatment.
“I don’t like hospitals,” he said. “I can still feel the smoke in my lungs, but I’m fortunate to be able to call myself a survivor.”
The Fire Department was notified about the fire at 9:50 a.m. and called for a second alarm at 9:57 a.m., Talmadge said. It was under control by 10:20 a.m.