ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A three-alarm fire that injured two firefighters raged through a southeast Albuquerque apartment complex Friday generating a massive smoke plume visible from most of the metro area.
The injured firefighters were among four who fell through the floor from the second story to the first while searching for residents of the Royal Crown Apartments, according to the Albuquerque Fire Department. Both suffered leg injuries, one had minor burn, and they were treated and released from University of New Mexico Hospital a few hours later, an AFD spokesperson said.
Initial reports said the fire was in the Ridgecrest Manor Apartments.
The first alarm came in at 3 p.m. bringing personnel and apparatus to the three-story building at 4801 Gibson SE near the Truman Gate entrance to Kirtland Air Force Base. First units on the scene reported heavy smoke and flames on the north side of the building.
A crew from Engine 13 entered the building and during a search rescued two uninjured residents from one apartment and also save a cat.
At 3:40 p.m. the commander on the scene decided to fight the fire from outside the building. The third alarm was issued because of the heavy fuel load in the large complex.
Overall 75 fire personnel responded to the scene.
At last report the roof had collapse, and an AFD spokesperson said the fight was expected to last well into the night. Aerial video from News 13's Skyranger helicopter showed walls caved in and an active fire still raging nearly three hours after the initial alarm.
The fire is believed to have started behind a washing machine in the first-floor laundry room. An electric cause is suspected, but AFD said the exact cause will be determined by a later investigation.
"Behind the washer the wall was on fire, so I ran to my apartment and grabbed my fire extinguisher and tried to put it out," resident Beverly Salazar said. "But I have COPD, so I ran out because of the smoke and stuff.
"I started pounding on all the doors and getting everybody out."
Residents Jose Ortiz was among those who first detected the fire and helped evacuate the building.
"All the smoke; the smoke is the scariest because you can't see anything," Ortiz said. "It blinds you. It suffocates you.
According to AFD 43 of the 47 units in the apartment were occupied although it's not known how many people lived there. City buses shuttled 21 residents to a shelter at Highland High School set up with the assistance of the American Red Cross Rio Grande Chapter.
The school already had been used as a shelter for city residents affected by the weather emergency brought on by arctic temperatures and utility shortages.
With the frigid temperatures having risen only slightly, there was concern about water draining from the fire scene freezing on nearby streets.
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