Three Escape Apartment Fire with Only Their Lives

WEST NEWPORT — Three people jumped out a burning upstairs apartment leaving behind everything except their lives — something officials say they’re lucky to have.

By Marc S. Posner
Daily Pilot
This story is designated as a favorite in large part because of the lede. The claim, though, is a reaction to the first responders assessment of the situation and is backed up in the account.

Breaking glass from windows bursting because of the fire’s heat woke Thomas Martin just after 11 p.m. on Monday. He peered out of his bedroom to find the adjacent hall filled with thick smoke and woke his roommates Gina and Susan Fettig, Newport Beach fire officials said.

Blocked from the only door leading out of the two-story duplex, Martin closed the bedroom door to help stall the flames while he coaxed the sisters — who wanted to gather belongings — out a window and onto the roof of the downstairs unit, according to fire officials and witnesses.

Barefoot and sparsely clothed, Martin and the Fettig sisters jumped to safety, at least one into the arms of a bystander.

“They’re real lucky because that place was fully involved when we got there,” Newport Beach Fire Captain Jerry Strom said, “The heat was so intense I could feel it through my (fire suit). It could have been a real tragedy.”

Smoke detectors, which would have provided an early warning, were mounted in the apartment, but the batteries had been removed, said Strom, who was with the first firefighters arriving at the 47th Street home.

The apartment sustained $70,000 damage. Only the bedrooms weren’t completely gutted, although both had damage, Strom said.

All three victims appear to be in their 20s, according to fire officials who didn’t have exact ages. Several neighbors said they didn’t know the three.

Ron Johnson — who lives a few blocks from the apartment — was returning from a movie as the first firefighters arrived. He spotted the victims standing on the corner of 47th Street and Neptune Avenue.

“There was nobody around them to console them,” Johnson said. “They were by themselves.”

Johnson said he chatted with Susan Fettig as firefighters battled flames that shot out the roof and windows of the beach-area apartment where the three recently had moved.

Susan Fettig lost all her clothing and recently purchased school books, Johnson said.

“The fire already was so big we had to go out the window and my neighbors caught me,” Johnson recalled Susan Fettig saying as she stood on the corner wearing only a pair of sweat pants and a baggy shirt.

Johnson said he scavenged for pairs of socks for Susan Fettig, her sister — who was wearing a t-shirt and jeans — and Martin — clad in only a pair of swimming trunk-style shorts.