Beth Boatman took a break from work around 10 Sunday morning to find 16 missed calls on her cellphone, and she immediately knew something was wrong.
“It’s terrible news,” her boyfriend and roommate, Phillip Bay, said when she called back.
Boatman, 22, rushed home to find a fire engulfing the apartment building where she lived with her fellow Paso Robles High School graduate, 23-year-old Tabitha Russell, and their boyfriends.
The four are among the 37 estimated survivors of a blaze that roared through a four-story building in the city’s Mission District, according to The Associated Press. No one died, but a tenant suffered from smoke inhalation and three firefighters were injured when a staircase collapsed, Russell said.
Boatman had left the apartment at 6 a.m., but Russell and her boyfriend, Kirk Spasses, awoke around 9:30 a.m. to a strange noise that sounded like flooding water. When Spasses got up to check, he found flames coming in through their top floor kitchen window.
He screamed to wake Bay and Russell before using a fire extinguisher, which proved a weak match for the flames.
For Russell, “it was that weird experience of, what do you save in a fire?” she said. She grabbed her cellphone and laptop before running out the building and alerting other tenants along the way.
“It took 30 seconds, maybe a minute, to escape,” she recalled.
The roommates found themselves shoeless on the sidewalk, crying in their pajamas when the fire engines arrived at the wooden building near Duboce Avenue and Valencia Street. The fire was contained by noon. Its cause is under investigation.
And since Boatman returned from work to the scene, the four roommates have been inseparable. They have vowed to move in together again — this time with renter’s insurance. They lost nearly all of their possessions in the fire.
The Red Cross is assisting them in finding another apartment. They say they are lucky to have donated hotel rooms in Palo Alto, where Spasses’ parents manage hotels, to sleep in for now.
While Russell feels sad and shocked about what has happened, she is more overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and donations from friends and family, and even strangers online. “So many friends have said, ‘You can stay here for as long as you like,’ ” Russell said. “Everyone has our backs.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
How you can help
People wishing to send donations can contact Beth Boatman and Tabitha Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org.