WILKES-BARRE - A three-alarm fire displaced numerous tenants in the Interfaith Heights complex on Monday.
City firefighters were dispatched at 6:38 p.m. to 292 Coal St. to find heavy smoke and flames coming from an apartment on the first floor of the 31-unit building.
"It was very hot. There was a lot of fire," fire Chief Jay Delaney said.
Firefighters performed a "very aggressive" internal search to make sure everyone was safe, he said. They rescued one cat.
"We were able to get everyone out, and no one was injured so far," Delaney said.
Delaney gave a preliminary count of about 14 displaced residents.
Resident Bob Dietz said a woman lives in the apartment where the fire apparently started, but she was at the hospital visiting her mother at the time. He said the fire got so hot it blew the windows out.
The fire worked its way up to the apartment above it as firefighters battled it from inside and out. When it was extinguished after about an hour, Wilkes-Barre fire Inspector Alan Klapat, city code officials and Interfaith Heights management came to assess the situation.
Delaney said immediately after the fire there could be a maximum of 60 people in the 31 units who would have to seek temporary housing. He told residents in other sections of the building they couldn't stay there if there were no working fire alarms.
City spokesman Drew McLaughlin said a total of 10 units, seven of which were occupied, were damaged and will be shut down. Authorities notified the American Red Cross to help residents who needed it.
Jonika Bradford, who lives on the other side of the building, was on her way out when she saw flames and smoke billowing from a window.
"It was really bad. It was already reaching the apartment above it," she said.
Bradford called 911. Although she wanted to get her sister out, the operator told her not to go back inside. As it turned out, the sister was able to get out safely. Bradford remembers as she was getting out she thought she saw someone in the burning apartment and her heart sank.
"This is the scariest experience of my life," Bradford said.
Linda Stahl, who said her apartment was behind the one where the fire started, tried to get her fellow tenants out.
"I knocked on every door there was to get everybody out," she said. "I said, 'You've got to get out, hurry, hurry, run, run."
Stahl worried about her three cats and two kittens, since she and her husband likely couldn't go back to their apartment Monday night due to the smoke.