Jan 19, 2011 9:58 PM by Ariel Wesler

Fire destroys two apartments; 10 others heavily damaged

A two-story apartment complex in Santa Maria went up in flames around 10 a.m. It happened in the 900 block of East Jones Street. Firefighters are calling the fire suspicious.

These viewer photos show the intensity of the fire that had emergency crews swarming an apartment complex in Santa Maria.

"We're using the help of Santa Barbara County, Guadalupe, and San Luis County Fire," said Santa Maria Fire Chief Jeff Jones.

The fire started inside Gail Newswanger's apartment on the first floor. She lives alone and was out running errands.

"Inside were my two cats," Newswanger said. "My brother- in-law stated to me that everything's gone. I'm getting help from the Red Cross. I don't really have much family," she said.

Firefighters evacuated twelve units. The flames quickly spread to the second floor and ignited a tree in the front yard--melting insulation on a nearby power line, turning the situation from bad to worse.

"That's 440 volt powerline down on the ground that's live, so we made sure we kept the public out and made sure the firefighters were aware of the hazard," Jones said.

"It started to get scary when the glass, the windows shattered and the tree became engulfed," said Michelle Robinson, who watched the scene unfold.

Robinson and some nursing students at Hancock College drove by, saw the fire and stopped to help.

"We all decided that we need to be there just in case somebody needed CPR, because we're all first aid and CPR certified being in the program," Robinson said.

It took firefighters 45 minutes to put out the flames, but no one was injured.

One resident tells me the apartment manager has been gracious, helping people find other places to live temporarily. Meanwhile, neighbors have been stepping in with supplies and support.

One cat died. Another hasn't been found. Two people were treated for smoke inhalation at Marian Medical Center. The total damage is estimated at $350,000.


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