A San Diego-based U.S. Navy sailor, with his flight deck uniform as protection, ran into a burning building to try and save a woman from a deadly fire Wednesday.
The woman died and two others were taken to the Regional Burn Center at UC San Diego after fire engulfed a first-floor apartment on Park Way in Chula Vista.
“Picture turning an oven on to 400 degrees and putting your face in it, that’s what it felt like,” Eric Welsh said.
Several people rushed to help the tenants - a woman, her ex-husband and her son. Some were bandaged after cutting their elbows to get to fire extinguishers. One man was burned on his arm.
Flames broke out inside the lower unit of the Royal Apartments just before 10 a.m. When firefighters arrived, flames were shooting from the door and windows.
Before fire crews got there, Welsh and other neighbors went into the burning apartment multiple times looking for the woman who was said to be still trapped inside.
The flames were too hot and the smoke was too thick, he said.
Residents say the victim lived in the unit with her ex-husband and her son. The two family members were already outside the apartment, sitting on the ground and looking dazed according to neighbors.
As soon as he heard a woman was still inside the burning unit, Welsh ran back to his own apartment to grab his uniform.
Afterwards, he held up the long-sleeved yellow shirt he used to protect himself from the flames.
It's the same shirt he wears on the job as an aircraft carrier deckhand based out of NAS North Island.
Other people tried to use fire extinguishers but they were no match for the flames.
It was impossible, it was just too much, Welsh said.
All were very upset by the fact that they couldn’t save the woman.
The couple was still living together for financial reasons, neighbors said.
Less than an hour after the fire was reported, crews were knocking down parts of the unit to check for embers.
No word on what caused the fire.