Midland Apartment Fire: Tenant Remembers Close Call With Flames

"I did think that it was over,” says Rebecca Jayo as she remembers smoke filling her apartment. “I thought what a heck of a way to go."

Those are the words from someone who lived directly across the hall from an apartment fire that forced a building-wide evacuation.

The Midland fire chief says a lack of sprinklers did not help.

The fire forced around 190 people to evacuate.

Fire crews say an outdated building code left parts of the high rise without sprinklers.

We’ve been following this story closely since a top floor room at the Green Hill Apartments caught fire Monday night on Eastlawn Drive.

The fire chief says either smoking or a lit candle may have been what started it.

No one was hurt, but three firefighters and one woman were checked out at the hospital.

9&10’s Cody Boyer met that woman — who may have been the closest to the inferno.

He continues our coverage with her story.

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"When I close my eyes, I smell the smoke,” Rebecca says. “And when I open my eyes, I see it."

Rebecca Jayo was one of around 190 people forced to evacuate when fire ripped through an apartment on the top floor.

Alarms began instructing everyone to stay in their room as Rebecca woke up from a nap.

"I smelled something and I opened my eyes and I couldn’t see in my bedroom and I thought oh my God, this is really a fire."

Directly across the hall from the flames, she says she rescued her cat, Abby, from under her bed as water and smoke poured in.

"I threw my bed upside-down because I knew my cat was under there, hiding,” Rebecca says. "I had to wade through the water that was coming. It filled my kitchen. It was ankle deep and it was hot water. Black water. You know, when a fire goes out, you get more smoke. And the smoke was so bad I couldn’t breathe. I have a lot of breathing problems. It was getting harder and harder to breathe."

Rebecca remembers hearing the fire department out in the hallway.

"The fire department came through and said don’t leave your apartment," Rebecca says. “Maybe half hour later, they came back and screamed everybody evacuate now."

Time seemed to be running out as Rebecca waited for help, now on her balcony…Abby in a pet carrier.

"It was hot, hot. Oh geez, it was hot up there,” Rebecca says. “I looked over and thought there’s no way you are going to jump. I hollered down and said how am I going to get out? So I just thought well, you’re just in it for the long haul. Whatever might happen is going to happen."

As crews clean up the remnants, she remembers questioning whether she would make it out alive.

"I was tired,” Rebecca says. “Just so exhausted and so hot and thought I came back here and I’m going to die? I thought…hey, at least I got to see my kids and my grand-kids. My son when I came back here and I left my daughter [in Arizona]. So I thought at least I got to see everybody, you know? And you never know when your number is up."

Rebecca and others did not have sprinklers in their rooms.

The Midland fire chief says an outdated building code may be to blame.

“It’s just unfortunate it wasn’t a fully sprinkled building,” says Chief Chris Coughlin. “If it had been, most people probably would not have had to leave the building."

As for Rebecca’s belongings, like many others nearby, they were covered in soot.

She says she managed to save her keys, purse and some other small essentials.

"I haven’t really cried about it yet,” Rebecca says. “My daughter told me, Mom, the things that are in there that my kids have given me over the years, that makes me sad. But they are belongings and they can….I have the memory of them."

In the end, Rebecca says she’s thankful firefighters got her out.

"I will come back here because I loved my apartment. I loved the view,” Rebecca says. “And it showed me that you can be pretty safe. It wasn’t time for me and I’m glad."

The Midland City Housing Commission says it could take several weeks for most of the rooms to become inhabitable again – and longer for rooms closer to the origin of the fire.

The commission says they will be in contact with everyone who was evacuated.

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