Residents jumps, climbs to safety during overnight fire in Centennial apartment building

CENTENNIAL, Colo. - When fire trapped virtually everyone on the second and third floors of an apartment building, one family of four was forced to jump and climb to safety.

"I jumped out of bed and started screaming, 'Fire!'" 17-year-old Chris Johnson said.

The fire in building G of the Copper Terrace Apartments began around 1 a.m. Monday. It raged to destroy or damage at least four units in that building south Dayton Street near Arapahoe Road in Centennial.

Chris Johnson woke his mother, father and brother but lost them in the smoke.

"So I wrapped my hand with a towel, grabbed a candle and broke the window," he said. "Someone brought out a mattress and I jumped from the third story onto the mattress."

He was far from the only one. A neighbor backed a pickup truck up to the burning building the mattresses were thrown in the bed of the truck to cushion the fall for those who wanted to jump.

Cell phone video from the fire shows Johnson's 10-year-old brother climbing down a rope made of bed sheets and blankets.

As his parents climbed down the makeshift rope, they still hadn't found where their older son was.

"And then I saw Christopher, so we were all safe," James Johnson said.

The Johnson family was not alone. Their neighbors all had similar stories to tell of their own evacuations.

"I got hit with a bunch of heat and flames," one woman said. "It singed my eyelashes and part of my hair. I burnt my hand trying to close the door."

"It's great that we could all, just that quickly, all come together to do something to help," Schoff said.

Eight people were injured in the fire, one of them is in critical condition.

"I didn't know if we were going to make it out in time," said Lenise Ruff, who suffered second degree burns on her hands and jumped out of her third story window with her roommate, Marilyn Kruc. 

Kruc underwent surgery for two broken vertebrae Monday, said Ruff, and is expected to make a full recovery.

Ruff is getting married Saturday, and Kruc is her maid of honor.

"So, the fact that she’s alive today and can witness us together is special," said Ruff. "We’re really blessed to all be alive."

Ruff said it looks like she lost almost everything in the fire, but her wedding dress was at her parents' house in Castle Rock.

"I'm so glad I left it here so my fiance wouldn't see it," said Ruff. "It's basically the only outfit I own now besides what I have on."

The cause of the fire is under investigation but the undersheriff says arson is being considered as a strong possibility. The fire began in a stairwell.

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