Fire student saves home

Most people who run out of burning buildings typically don't have fond memories of the experience. The lack of air, smoke so thick you choke on it and of course, the searing flames can be an issue.

Not for Eric Blaska.

When Blaska, 27, emerged from his neighbor's home in the Coronado apartments in Newport Beach on Thursday after putting out a growing inferno there with a fire extinguisher, he had one thought.

"Yeah, this is what I want to do!" Blaska recalled thinking.

For a guy studying to become a firefighter at Santa Ana Community College, this was some hands-on learning.

"The most nerve-racking part was that we couldn't kick the door in," Blaska said. "You could hear the fire getting bigger. You could feel it getting hotter."

Thursday morning Blaska was finishing up his morning jog near the Coronado at Newport North and South Apartments when he saw black smoke coming from the third floor of the complex.

Blaska ran up to check it out and found a maintenance worker doing the same. The smoke was coming from an apartment so Blaska and the other man told residents in the area to evacuate. The men tried to kick in the door, and there was no way to know if anyone was inside.

"You could hear the flames burning through the door, it was pretty loud," he said.

A second complex employee rushed over and unlocked the door, and Blaska got a face full of black smoke and heat.

Armed with a single fire extinguisher, Blaska got on all fours and crawled into the apartment.

"The whole front left half was on fire," he said. Firefighters said the flames were climbing the walls and lapping at the ceiling. It was moments from consuming the whole apartment, officials said.

Blaska crawled into the kitchen and put out the table, which was a total loss. He cooled the room by "penciling," or spraying water into the air above the flames.

Able to move a bit further in, Blaska eventually doused the blaze.

"It was like the minute we got the fire down, we literally ran out of water," he said. "I didn't think we had enough."

In a letter to his superiors, Newport Beach fire Capt. Justin Carr commended Blaska's initiative.

"Due to his heroic efforts I believe he saved the contents of the entire apartment," Carr wrote. "Had he not acted the apartment would've been fully involved upon our arrival. I want to commend his efforts and recognize him as an outstanding citizen."

For Blaska, it sounds like it was pure excitement. He saved a dog inside the apartment too, he said.

"It almost happened naturally," he said. "It just reminded me again of why I was going through the classes."

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