Wesley Patterson was in the bathroom just before 11 a.m. on Sunday when his girlfriend knocked on the door to say that she saw flames coming out of another unit.
It took only moments for the apartment to fill with smoke, said Mr. Patterson, who has lived in the building for 20 years.
“We were just trying to breathe,” Mr. Patterson, 28, said. He rushed with his girlfriend and her brother, who lives with the couple, to a back window.
He tried to open it but the frame was so hot that he burned his hands. When he got the window open, he started screaming to firefighters who were helping a family in apartment 3M. The firefighters couldn’t get to them just yet, he said.
Mr. Patterson said he had to keep opening and shutting the window to keep smoke from pouring in as he called for help.
“I was yelling, ‘Please help me! Please come get us!’” he said.
The family tried to open the door, but the apartment flooded with even more smoke.
“I was thinking about my son, and I was wondering if I was ever going to see him again,” Mr. Patterson said.
It was around 11:20 a.m. that Mr. Patterson said he and his family were pulled out of the window by firefighters.
“I’m glad we made it out safe, but I still can’t believe it happened,” he said.
Dana Nicole Campbell, 47, was at a nearby park, working as a groundskeeper for the city, when one of her four teenage children called to say that smoke was coming into their apartment on the third floor. Ms. Campbell said she told them to put damp towels by the foot of the door to prevent more smoke from entering the apartment, and to barricade themselves inside the apartment.
Then she raced to the building and got there in time to see her children jump out of a third-floor window. They landed on a mattress and garbage bags that people had put there as a makeshift landing pad. Later, Ms. Campbell said she was grateful her children were unharmed.
“You can be here tomorrow with broken legs,” she said. “You can’t be here tomorrow with smoke inhalation.”
Firefighters helped Cristal Diaz escape with her two aunts, aged 49 and 65, and three cousins from their smoke-filled apartment on the 15th floor. Ms. Diaz, who moved from the Dominican Republic two years ago, took only her phone and identification with her when she left. “We don’t know what to do right now, and tomorrow I’m supposed to work,” said Ms. Diaz, who works as a cashier. The family is currently staying with friends.
Ms. Diaz said she was drinking coffee, as she does every morning, when the disaster struck.
“I thought, ‘Is this going to be the last time I enjoy coffee with my family?’ Ms. Diaz, 27, recalled, still in shock.
Members of the Wague family stood on the corner of Tiebout Avenue and Folin Street, huddled together, some under a blanket, after escaping their third-floor apartment.
Mamadou Wague was awakened by one of his children. “I get up, and there’s smoke in the kids’ rooms,” Mr. Wague, 47, said.
As the family rushed out of the apartment, one of Mr. Wague’s children cried that their sister, Nafisha, 8, was missing….