AURORA, Colo. — Witnesses say someone started a fire at an Aurora apartment building that killed two people and destroyed 24 units. Investigators were looking into reports of a man with a gas can running from the scene late Monday.
The Red Cross says it expected about a dozen people to spend Tuesday night at the shelter it opened at a nearby elementary school.
Aurora Fire Department spokesman Capt. Allen Robnett said the elderly couple who lost their lives were on the 4th floor of the Fitz Apartments at E. 17th Ave. and Peoria St. Authorities confirmed that 15 people were injured.
Heavy flames were seen from the fourth floor of the Fitz Apartments, which is directly across from the University of Colorado-Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, when firefighters arrived before 11 p.m.
“I just saw the windows blow out and flames just appear out of no where,” resident Amber Donovan said.
A number of people jumped to escape the flames. Firefighters made numerous rescues. So did civilians. Paramedics treated patients for injuries suffered as a result of jumping as well as smoke inhalation. One woman who jumped broke both legs.
Some civilians got in on the rescuing act. Neighbors desperately knocked down doors and busted out windows, saving whoever they could.
Tayvon Lewis was one of the first to help.
“We saw a younger lady come out of a third-story window,” Lewis said. “She jumped out and I helped her move the fence. She said there were more people inside.”
Among those still trapped were a family of three with a baby — also stuck on the third floor. Lewis prepared down below as the parents prepared to drop the baby out of the window.
His sure hands didn’t fail him, as he snatched the infant safely.
“That was the catch of my life,” Lewis said. “I made plenty of catches in high school football and everything else. No catch was bigger than this one.”
The parents jumped to safety next and landed onto a canopy that Lewis and a friend had constructed. All three are doing well.
Neighbors were saddened to learn that the elderly couple on the 4th floor didn’t make it. Resident Michelle Sullivan called the husband a “really nice guy” who “always said hi.”
Witnesses told police that they saw a man leaving the apartment complex with a gas canister right around 11 p.m. Shortly after that, the entire building went up in flames. Investigators said arson has not been ruled out as a possible cause.
Residents were evacuated to Paris Elementary School but were allowed to return home shortly after 6 a.m. Tuesday to retrieve what they could.
The building that burned is less than one block away from the building where Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes lived. An apartment manager says his tenants are afraid to live in the neighborhood now, “Because of everything that has happened.”