Neighbor Tries to Help Resident in Fatal Chinatown Fire

Joe Zhang rushed to help his neighbor, but the smoke was too heavy.

By Kim Baldonado and Samantha Tata
|  Thursday, Dec 27, 2012  |  Updated 5:55 AM PDT
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Just after 6 p.m. Wednesday, Joe Zhang rushed to get something to cover his mouth to protect him from the heavy smoke that was billowing from the second-floor unit in his Chinatown apartment building. Kim Baldonado reports from Chinatown for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Dec. 26, 2012.

Kim Baldonado

Just after 6 p.m. Wednesday, Joe Zhang rushed to get something to cover his mouth to protect him from the heavy smoke that was billowing from the second-floor unit in his Chinatown apartment building. Kim Baldonado reports from Chinatown for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Dec. 26, 2012.

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An apartment fire in Chinatown killed a senior resident, whose neighbor threw a robe over his pajamas and ran to the garage to get a fire extinguisher in an attempt to put out the blaze.

Just after 6 p.m. Wednesday, Joe Zhang rushed to get something to cover his mouth to protect him from the heavy smoke that was billowing from the second-floor unit in his Chinatown apartment building.

"There was too much smoke so I couldn't really help," Zhang said.

Zhang suffered cuts on his hand when he broke the glass case containing the fire extinguisher. When asked why he put himself in danger to help others he doesn't know, he was quick to answer.

"Because they are people,” he said. "They are also people."

When firefighters arrived, they were met with heavy smoke and the challenge of needing to rescue a senior woman trapped inside the burning apartment.

"Firefighters have to enter with no visibility and go in there and crawl on hand and knees to try to locate where the person is and to extract as quickly as possible," said Asst. Chief Ronnie Villanueva with LA City Fire Department.

Firefighters put out the fire in less than 15 minutes. It's now up to arson investigators to determine the cause of the fire, believed to have started in a bedroom.

"We don't suspect arson," Villanueva said. "It's just we're going to take all precautionary measures to find out the cause of this fire."

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