When Luis Once heard the fire alarm go off in his third-floor Minneapolis apartment Friday night, he opened the door to the hallway and was hit by a wall of thick, black smoke.
"Everything was so dark from the smoke," Once said Saturday. "I was able to feel the heat from the flames on my face."
He grabbed a sweater and raced down the dark stairways, choking on fumes and jumping to avoid the fast-spreading flames. He exited out the front door while his two roommates, including his brother, went out the back.
By the time fire crews arrived about 10:45 p.m., two residents had jumped from apartment windows and several others dangled from windowsills. One of those who jumped, a man, died early Saturday, officials said. A woman who jumped remains hospitalized at Hennepin County Medical Center in stable condition.
"We saw [the man] jump," Once said in Spanish. "My brother approached him to ask if he was OK, but he didn't respond."
The two-alarm blaze spread quickly through the halls and stairways of all three floors of the apartment complex at 1500 Park Av., just east of the Minneapolis Convention Center.
On Saturday, after hours of investigation by Minneapolis police homicide and arson units, a 30-year-old man was arrested in connection with the fire and booked into the Hennepin County jail, where he's awaiting likely murder charges, authorities said. Officials are investigating the fire as arson, and some residents said they smelled gasoline or lighter fluid as they fled the building. The suspect has a couple of prior convictions, including for manufacturing and selling drugs and theft, according to court filings.
When she saw the black smoke, Jennifer Tesch, who lived on the second floor, tucked her poodle, Simba, under her left arm and called 911. She and a couple of other neighbors then gathered by the building's north-facing wall and waited to be rescued.
"I feared for my life," Tesch said Saturday morning. "I thought we were going to die."
Manuel Ouasco, who lives on the same block, ran to the building as fire crews arrived to rescue those inside. "The flames were coming out the windows," he said in Spanish on Saturday. "Then the glass started to explode."
First responders rescued residents waiting by windows and the back fire escape with a firetruck ladder. Many were treated for smoke inhalation.
Using hand lines, firefighters extinguished the blaze in about 30 minutes. "The building didn't burn down," said Bryan Tyner, the Fire Department's assistant chief of administration. "We were able to put the fire out fairly quickly."
The man's death was the city's ninth fire-related fatality this year. Officials have yet to release his name.
The morning after
The fire displaced up to 30 of the building's residents. The complex has 22 apartments, only 18 of which were occupied during the fire, Tyner said.
The American Red Cross gave displaced residents a care package and debit card to pay for an overnight hotel stay. It was unclear whether the residents will be able to return to live in the units in the near future.
On Saturday morning, tenants came by the building to collect personal items from their units. Apartment management at the scene declined to comment.
The front units on the third floor, charred and ruined from the inside, were the most heavily damaged. Shattered glass, burnt wood and a large cushion Tesch said was thrown by a neighbor attempting to jump littered the outside of the building.
Tesch, who had barely slept, said everything in her unit was undamaged and that she will probably stay with her boyfriend or daughter in the following days.
Once, a radio DJ who had lived in the building for 15 years, said he and his roommates will stay with friends until they find another place to live. He said he lost all of his radio equipment in the fire.
"We lost absolutely everything," he said.