70 evacuated, 15 rescued off balconies after fire at Orange retirement home

By ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL/ STAFF WRITER  Orange County Register

ORANGE – Firefighters used ladders to rescue 15 people from balconies at a retirement home after a five-alarm fire erupted Sunday afternoon.

The fire broke out at The Palmyra shortly before 1 p.m. Officials were investigating the cause of the fire, and late Sunday they did not have an estimate on monetary damage the complex sustained.

palmyra-fire
American Red Cross serving Orange County volunteer Susie Johnson watches as an Orange County Fire Authority fireman returns a bag a medicine to a resident displaced by fire. RED CROSS PHOTO BY LARRY FORTMULLER

In addition to the rescues, the building, at 301 S. Glassell, was evacuated. About 70 residents were displaced.

Of the 15 people rescued, five were treated for smoke inhalation and three of them were taken to a hospital, said Orange Fire Capt. Casey Fieldhouse.

One unit was destroyed by the fire, Fieldhouse said. The corner apartment, as seen from the street, had broken windows and a blackened exterior.

About 100 firefighters responded, including trucks from the Orange County Fire Authority, Garden Grove, Fullerton and Anaheim.

Jaye Thomsen, 94, called the fire department after the blaze broke out in a nearby unit.

“I looked out my door, and I couldn’t see a thing,” she said.

She was among those rescued, climbing down the ladder from her second-floor unit with one firefighter below her and one above her.

“I’ve been a first responder all my life, so I wasn’t too afraid,” said Thomsen, who said she once was a Red Cross nurse.

After the fire was out, Red Cross workers assisted residents gathered on the lawn of Calvary Temple church across the street. Neighbors had brought chairs for residents, many of whom must use walkers or canes.

Sheri Ledbetter, who lives across the street and a few doors down from The Palmyra, said she initially didn’t think much of hearing sirens, since it’s not unusual for an ambulance to go to the nursing home.

But the sirens intensified and she smelled smoke, she said.

“Then we came out and we saw the smoke. And literally the sirens didn’t stop for like 30 minutes,” Ledbetter said. Trucks were just coming, coming, cops, ambulances.”

Firefighters knocked down the blaze in 20 minutes and extinguished it in an hour.

Residents of the retirement home were to stay with friends and family for the night, or the Red Cross would find accommodations for them, Fieldhouse said.

“I don’t have my medication or anything with me,” Thomsen said, “and they say we can’t get back there for a couple of days.”

Staff writer Jordan Graham contributed to this story.

Contact the writer: aboessenkool@ocregister.com

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