Redwood City police and fire escorted victims of the fire at Hallmark House Apartments to see what’s left of their homes. Kris Sanchez reports.
Juan Castro says he’s a good climber, but on Sunday, his skills were put to the test.
Castro and his girlfriend Chelsea Schmidtke were headed home, to one of the 72 apartments at the Hallmark House on Woodside Road in Redwood City, when flames engulfed the building just before 2 a.m.
After pounding on doors, shouting for his neighbors to wake up and get out, the 37-year-old found himself scaling the outside of the apartment building, carrying a child from a third story apartment to safety below.
“I’m not a hero, I’m just a normal person trying to help,” Castro said. “If we have the chance to get somebody out, we have to do that. It’s a responsibility as a neighbor and as a human.”
Castro and Schmidtke moved to Redwood City from Denver three months ago and hadn’t yet met all of their neighbors, including the child whose life Castro may have saved.
“The baby was unconscious when he came out. So had Juan not been there to pull him out, he might not have made it,” Schmidtke said.
The child’s father – who did not want to be identified – said the child is a 9-year old boy, too disabled to get out on his own. Lt. Sean Hart of the Redwood City Police Department said it is a miracle that only one person died in what is one of the biggest fires he’s seen in the city.
“There were a lot of brave rescues going on,” said Lt. Sean Hart of Redwood City Police. “A lot of people had to be rescued off their balconies. A lot of tenants were knocking on doors. The police and fire did a great job rescuing people.”
“They saved a lot of people,” Schmidtke said. “A many as some firefighters save in their entire careers, they saved in one night.”
Hotspots prevented the San Mateo Coroner from recovering the body of the one man who died in the fire, and kept the 92 residents out of their burned out apartments until today. Redwood City firefighters and police officers escorted them into the now-uninhabitable building to gather what was left. Some filled a few garbage bags, others walked with much less.
“I brought down my angel,” said Angela Parks who salvaged a small ceramic statue, some family photos and an urn carrying the ashes of her mother. As she packed up to head back to the Red Cross shelter set up at the National Guard Armory, she said she was thankful.