SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) - An apartment complex under construction in Rolando went up in flames Monday, causing extensive damage, injuring one person and sending a thick column of black smoke into the sky near San Diego State University.
A roofer working with a blow torch accidentally ignited the blaze at 68th and Amherst streets about noon and was unable to put it out on his own, according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
Flames shot up as the roofer fell from scaffolding, trying to grab his propane tank.
He delayed dialing 911 and tried to put out the fire himself.
"He was trying to pat it out with his hands and then tried to cut out a section that caught on fire," said SDFRD Battalion Chief Grace Yamane.
It took firefighters over an hour to fully extinguish the blaze, which engulfed two of the three structures at the site, SDFRD spokeswoman Monica Munoz said.
Firefighters said had the roofer called 911 sooner more off the buildings could have been spared.
Fears were high for Rolando resident Ronald Roy as roaring flames from nearby forced him out his house.
"My house was really close and I was so scared my roof was going to catch on fire," said Roy.
Fears rose as a power pole was engulfed in flames.
“That power pole right there in the front they just replaced that over the weekend and everybody was worried about that new transformer exploding," said witness Ed Keller.
Two of the buildings were burned so bad they are total losses and there was threat to the third building and nearby homes.
"People were running around and hollering that the other buildings are going to catch on fire real fast," said Keller.
Neighbors watched the thick smoke rise as firefighters quickly pumped out water.
First responders helped treat the injured roofer.
“He obviously does not feel great about what happened and he’s being looked at," said San Diego Police Department Lt. Charles Lara.
The fire was so close to Ronald Roy’s home, it brought him to tears.
"I’m alright, but I was really worried," said Roy. "I’m the only person in my family with a house and everyone always comes over to my house."
He was relieved that there was no damage.
“I’m not crying because I’m sad," Roy said. "I’m like happy that the fire is out and I got somewhere to live."
SDG&E was on scene repairing the power pole and line, but did not shut off power in the neighborhood.
The roofer was treated for his leg injury.
Facebook Video: Three-alarm apartment fire in Rolando: