Almost as soon as Chuchandra Williams’ head hit the pillow Monday morning, she heard frantic banging at her door.
She said someone yelled, “Get the (expletive) out! There’s a fire!”
Outside, Williams heard popping sounds from the building as flames engulfed her apartment. A hole bore through the roof, leaving the rest of her family’s belongings smoking. Williams grabbed her glasses and grandchild, with no time to put on socks, shoes, or even to grab her phone.
“It was very scary,” Williams said.
The fire broke out early Saturday morning at the Tiffany Square Apartments, in Lakewood, Colorado, claiming two lives, injuring 10, and leaving scores of Lakewood residents to sort through the rubble of their former homes.
An investigation has been launched by the department’s Major Crimes Unit, according to Lakewood police.
“It doesn’t appear to have been something like an obvious candle being knocked over at night,” said John Romero, a police spokesman.
As of Monday morning, at least 14 units of the complex were damaged by the fire, and all 32 residents were displaced.
The two residents who died Monday afternoon were Kathleen Payton, 33, and her daughter Jazmine Payton Aguayo, 10.
“This is devastating,” said Rochelle Valdez, Peyton’s aunt.
It was some 17 years ago that Payton reconnected with Valdez and her siblings – relatives of Payton’s birth mother – where they celebrated birthdays and holidays together. Jazmine was Payton’s only child.
As if the fire wasn’t bad enough, police are investigating it as a possible criminal act, Valdez said.
She stopped to hug her twin sister in the parking lot beside the apartments, both of them sobbing.
“There’s just something off about this,” Valdez’ sister Janelle Camacho said.
Seven people were treated for injuries and released, including a firefighter. Three others — a mother, a father and a child — were taken to an area hospital, police said. West Metro Fire Rescue officials said the mother and her child jumped from the second story of the building to escape.
About 5:30 a.m., firefighters reported the blaze under control.
As residents woke up to flames engulfing their homes, they claimed they hadn’t heard fire alarms.
After grabbing their pet guinea pigs and hamsters, Michael Bembry and his wife fled from their apartment, feeling the heat of the fire.
He remembered thinking, “This (expletive) ain’t real. I’m dreaming.”
Residents reported that the fire accelerated quickly. Before they knew it, half the building had gone up in flames.
“If anyone still was in there when I saw it, they were gone,” Bembry said. “Gone.”
Children came home dressed in Halloween costumes, passing police and fire investigators gathering evidence outside the charred remains of the building hours after the fire had been extinguished. Residents stood on their balconies, smoking, chatting quietly.
“I guess there’s no trick-or-treating this year,” a resident said as she held out a bowl of candy.
Shelter is being provided by the Red Cross for displaced residents.
Police are investigating the cause of the fire. Investigators are still unable to access all the units to confirm whether there have been any additional deaths, police said.
A neighbor shared this video of the fire this morning.
“Never seen nothing like in my life” Ruth Belay said pic.twitter.com/rbsBldDncs
— Sam Tabachnik (@sam_tabachnik) October 31, 2022