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Marine veteran helps save 43 residents from 4-alarm fire

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Quick action by a former U.S. Marine helped save the lives of 43 residents of the historic, 105-year-old Mayfair Apartments where a four-alarm fire was brought under control Tuesday morning.

Jose Tienda, 37, first saw white flames about 7:10 a.m. from atop the four-story apartment building at the northwest corner of North El Dorado and East Flora streets.

“That doesn’t look right. That’s not normal,” Tienda said he thought to himself.

Knowing the apartments were occupied by mental health clients, Tienda ran across El Dorado from his Crossfit gym and didn’t see any residents either outside or leaving the building.

Smelling smoke, he started pounding on doors waking up the residents, telling them there is a fire and to get out.

Tienda said that when he got to the third floor he saw flames in Apartment 308. The resident still was inside and bleeding from a big gash on his head, Tienda said. The resident, a middle-aged man, told Tienda he was cooking when there was an explosion.

Tienda then helped the man get downstairs and out of the building to safety.

As he went from room to room, Tienda called 911 and pulled the building’s fire alarm.

“I don’t think they understood the situation,” Tienda said of the residents.

The Stockton Fire Department was notified at 7:15 a.m. and arrived to thick black smoke coming from the roof and creating a dark cloud over downtown that could be seen for miles around.

At some point during the fire fight, the roof collapsed while the steel frame of the building held up the walls.

Two hours later, Battalion Chief Brandon Doolan said firefighters inside the building still were dealing with active, smoldering fires “from top to bottom” — from the basement to the roof. He said there was extensive damage throughout the Mayfair with lots of void spaces and hot spots to check out.

“It’s a tough fire with a lot of challenges. We were still pulling people out 20 minutes into it who didn’t respond to the fire alarm. We were waking people up,” Doolan said.

While it was too soon for firefighters to determine the cause and where the fire started, Doolan said the initial report is that there was some sort of explosion. But he was quick to explain Tuesday morning that it still is under investigation.

Most of the Stockton Fire Department was present at this four-alarm blaze. Mutual aid was provided by fire crews and equipment from 11 different agencies outside the city, according to Doolan, that allowed working crews to rotate in and out of the smoky building to get some relief.

The building’s owner said 43 of the Mayfair’s 47 rooms were occupied. When it was built in 1912, it was a high-end building known as the Home Apartments. The architect was the well-regarded Glenn Allen, known for designing the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium and other significant buildings around town.

Terry Hull Sr., chief executive of Property Management Experts, who has owned the Mayfair for more than three decades, described it as a solid building with a steel frame that suffered another destructive fire 10 years ago. At that time, it took nine months to refurbish.

“This one is more significant,” Hull said Tuesday morning while observing the firefighters at work from across the street

Hull said his first priority was the residents.

“They’re struggling. Nobody asks to be mentally ill,” he said.

Hull said the building was fully insured and mentioned that decades of company records were stored in boxes in the Mayfair basement, but he was unsure of their present condition.

“The only thing I care about is the people. The people are the most important,” he reiterated.

The Mayfair residents are clients of San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services. A spokesman for that agency said staffers were busy Tuesday finding alternative housing for the residents. He said privacy rules restricted him from providing further details.

Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or jgoldeen@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/goldeenblog and on Twitter @JoeGoldeen.

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