CA teachers save occupants of apartment fire

May 15 – Two San Francisco Unified Teachers entered a burning building to rescue residents from a fire at a Fillmore District apartment complex, the school district said Friday.

Cecily Ina and Vincent Reyes, both teachers at Rosa Parks Primary School, entered the building at 10 Inca Lane as firefighters worked to put out a two-alarm blaze that broke out shortly after 10 a.m.

At least five adults were rescued from the blaze, firefighters said. The fire department initially reported the fire was burning at 1355 Ellis Street, but later revised the location of the fire.

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Ina, 44, and Reyes, 37, were at recess when they saw smoke and called 911, they said in an interview with The Chronicle. The school is right next to the apartment complex where the fire started.

And as they both looked around the building, they saw residents of the complex on their balconies.

“We yelled at them to get out of the building,” Ina said. “There was an elderly couple there and they said they couldn’t get out.”

Before firefighters arrived, Ina and Reyes rushed into the building, knocking on windows and doors to make sure residents – many of whom were elderly – could get out.

Seven people were injured in the blaze, firefighters said. 18 other people were displaced.

At least two of those injured suffered serious injuries, the fire department said. Two other people were seriously injured, firefighters said. All were taken to local hospitals, the fire department said.

It is not immediately known how the fire started.

Entering the building felt like “Backdraft,” Reyes said, referencing the action thriller. “I could see the flames coming towards me in the building.”

Firefighters arrived soon after and officials said the blaze had not spread to nearby structures.

But Reyes and Ina said they couldn’t help but think of the residents – those who probably lost everything – and those who almost didn’t make it.

On the third floor, Ina saw an elderly woman who spoke no English and had difficulty evacuating the building.

“I grabbed his hand and dragged him down with me,” said Ina, who called her mother-in-law to translate into Cantonese when they finally came out.

Reyes and Ina said they were grateful fellow teachers at Rosa Parks Elementary moved quickly to get all students inside and cover their lessons as they entered the building.

“My students were definitely worried,” Reyes said. “They said ‘we thought you were dead.'”

And not lost among them was the help of other strangers, some of whom were walking down the street when they saw the fire, who stopped to help.

“No one knew each other and yet we were all helping each other, and all had the same goals,” Reyes said. “Making sure everyone was safe.”

Annie Vainshtein (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @annievain

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