Three Long Beach police officers said they "were just in the right place at the right time" when they rescued two people from a burning apartment in Long Beach last week after an officer found them trying to escape out of a barred window.
A citizen flagged down Officer Cory Lapworth on July 16 and told him that there was a fire in an alley nearby, but when Lapworth got closer he noticed an apartment complex on the 400 block of Chestnut Avenue was burning.
Some 10 to 15 people were screaming that residents were trapped inside, he said.
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Lapworth said he could see residents trying to break one window from the inside that had security bars on it.
He started trying to pull the iron bars off the window to no avail, but found a fence post in the alley that he started to use to pry the bars from the window.
"I was just doing my job, I think anybody that works with us would've done exactly the same," Lapworth said.
When officers Nicholas Dyer and Robert Paul arrived at the scene they immediately started helping Lapworth pull off the bars.
"You just don't think about it, and you just need to get the job done, so whatever it takes," Dyer said.
Once the officers got the bars off, a 41-year-old man who was severely burned and had suffered from smoke inhalation immediately jumped out of the window, police said.
The officers helped pull a woman who also suffered from burns and smoke inhalation from the window, Paul said.
Paul added that in his eight-and-a-half years as an officer, he had never been so close to a structure fire.
"I was thinking not only about the trapped citizens, but my fellow officer who was the first one on scene and make sure he was OK too," Paul said.
Since the fire was blocking the way to safety, and they didn't want to make the burn victims low crawl under smoke or climb the fence blocking their way they had the fire department cut the fence cut down so they could get the victims to the fire department safely, according to Paul.
"We were just in the right place at the right time," Paul said.
Long Beach Fire paramedics transferred the two victims to a hospital. Long Beach Fire Department officials said they were in critical condition at that time.
Some 50 firefighters worked to douse the blaze in a matter of minutes. More than two dozen people were displaced as a result of the fire.
Investigators said the fire was caused by an unattended candle inside the building during a massive power outage in parts of the city.