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Man Dies, 15 Residents Displaced in Apartment Fire

Times Staff Writer

An apartment fire in Tustin early Monday left one man dead and forced three others to leap to safety.

The blaze drew 50 firefighters, displaced 15 residents and killed Eric Henson, 27. He was trapped in the unit where the fire started and was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.

The fire began at 6:30 a.m. in a first-floor unit of the Creekside Meadows complex on Tustin East Drive, and quickly spread to three other units, said Capt. Stephen Miller of the Orange County Fire Authority. One woman escaped the flames by crawling onto the roof of a parking structure.

She was then rescued by firefighters.

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“All I could do was look for my cat, grab my glasses and my cellphone,” said Samantha McKee, 23. “It wasn’t too terrible, but it was a little hectic. I was more worried about my cat.”

After firefighters helped McKee, they rescued her cat.

McKee said she was lucky she heard her neighbors screaming “Fire!” because her smoke alarm was not working.

“My dad and I were going to put the batteries back in there,” said McKee, whose father was not home at the time. “But we never got around to it.”

A couple escaped unhurt after jumping from their smoke-filled second-story apartment onto a small dirt lot as neighbors stood below.

“We saw that they were trapped and we were telling them to jump,” said Lupe Lauer, who lives in an undamaged second-floor unit. “The woman jumped first and then her boyfriend jumped.”

It took firefighters about 20 minutes to control the blaze. Fire officials said they were investigating the cause of the fire. Police said they have not ruled out foul play.

Lauer said the man who died was troubled.

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“I invited him to my Bible study class last week,” Lauer said. “He said, ‘God can’t help me. He can’t pay my bills.’ ”

Four apartments, including Henson’s, were left uninhabitable.

American Red Cross officials were called to help residents who were displaced.

McKee, one of six residents who lived in a unit now condemned, said Creekside Meadows management offered her free utilities and another unit in the large complex. Ten other residents were temporarily displaced when the fire forced utilities to be turned off.

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