Warren fire victim talks about ordeal

WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) — An apartment fire in Warren sent seven people to the hospital Tuesday night and two of them are at the Akron Burn Unit.

Firefighters were called to the six-unit apartment complex at 1500 Stewart Circle N.W. just after 7 p.m. When they arrived, heavy smoke was pouring out of the complex’s front door.

Two of the victims, Nancy Whitlow, 63, and her son, Brian Whitlow, 44, are residents of the first-floor apartment where the fire started and suffered severe burns. The others suffered mostly smoke inhalation, according to firefighters.

One of them, Ashley Johnson, 27, jumped from a second-floor window.

Tenant Sheila Carr and her 17-year-old daughter, who is six months pregnant, were asleep when the fire broke out. Their apartment is on the third floor, so their smoke detector was one of the last to go off.

A friend staying there yelled at them to wake up, which Carr said probably saved their life.

She said she got a bad feeling in her stomach when she heard the building was on fire.

“It was just a horrifying experience. There was just this thick cloud of black smoke that was just choking me. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see in front of me and I could tell I was getting closer to the fire. And part of me almost panicked and thought about running back upstairs and trying to jump out the window until I heard a neighbor yell ‘come on!’,” Carr said.

The friend that alerted them to the fire jumped from a window and landed on top of a carport. He hurt his hip.

Carr was able to escape and make it out with just a sore throat from the smoke. She is  staying with family and friends for now.

She said things happened so quickly, there wasn’t time to grab anything, including the family’s cats. The cats did survive.

“You’re just so grateful to escape a scenario like that, you don’t think about your material things being damaged. And even though our actual unit itself was smoke damage, I don’t know how we’re ever going to get that smell out. It’s just so acrid and burnt and a constant reminder of what had happened,” Carr said.

She also didn’t have socks, shoes or clothes, and only had a blanket to keep warm.

“I always thought that if there’s a fire, I’ll have time to grab this and that, but when it comes right down to it, and you realize those flames are going to get you if you don’t go out that door now, you’re not going to have time. But the batteries in the fire alarm are a definite must-have,” Carr said.

She said she does not have renter’s insurance.

Warren Fire Chief Ken Nussle said there was speculation that the fire was caused by cooking, but the cause still is under investigation.

The tenants were not able to return as of Wednesday evening and the Red Cross was called to assist them.

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