Spokane fire crews investigating a downtown apartment blaze discovered the body of a resident in his apartment this evening. It was not known if he died as a result of the fire.
Two people were hospitalized with smoke inhalation and several others were rescued from the building at 123 N. Bernard St., said Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams.
Eileen Epps, who has lived in the building for just two months, was one of the people who were rescued.
Epps tried escape through the front door but when she opened it, all she saw was smoke.
“Thick, black smoke,” she said. “Pitch black. I thought the whole building was on fire.”
Epps said she knew there was no way she would make it to the elevator or stairwell.
“The smoke was so thick I couldn’t get out the front door,” she said. “I couldn’t see.”
So she screamed out the window for firefighters to rescue her, and despite her fear of heights, she made her way down the ladder.
“That was my only way out,” she said. “I had to make it down that ladder.”
Carl Heerwagen and his cat, Ralph-Cat, also were rescued from his third-story window. When Heerwagen opened his own door to a smoke-filled hallway, he immediately put Ralph-Cat in a crate and went to the window.
His only thought: “Somebody get me out of here.”
“We just waited ‘til they rescued us,” he said.
Neighbors say the fire started in the dead man’s third-floor apartment, but fire officials wouldn’t confirm that.
Nearly 50 Spokane firefighters responded to the blaze about at the four-story Sherwood Apartments. All of the building’s 33 units were occupied. The building also houses the Suki Yaki Inn.
When fire crews arrived on the scene shortly after 5 p.m. they saw black smoke and flames coming from the middle of the building on the third floor, Williams said. The fire is out, but crews remain on the scene mopping up and investigating the cause. Bernard Street is closed two blocks past Browne Street while crews investigate.
A Spokane Transit Authority bus was called to the scene to give displaced residents a place to stay warm. It is unknown when or if they will be able to return to their homes, Williams said. The American Red Cross opened a temporary shelter at North Central High School for displaced residents. About 20 residents had taken shelter there this evening.
The deceased man had activated his Medic-Alert alarm about an hour before the fire, Williams said. Emergency personnel responded and evaluated him. He was fine when they left, he said.
This is possibly the fourth fire-related death in Spokane County in less than a week.
“I pray this works out,” Epps said. “This is one of the worst things that could happen three days before Christmas.”