Apartment Fire Ruled Arson

Credit: KCNC

An apartment fire nearly turned deadly after several residents found themselves surrounded by flames with no way out of their upper-level units.

Investigators believe the fire was started intentionally.

Tenants at a Denver-area apartment complex scrambled to help when they realized some of their neighbors were trapped in a burning building.

A fire broke out at 1 a.m. Monday in one of the buildings at the Copper Terrace apartment complex in Centennial. While most residents got out in time, several living on the upper floors were stranded with no way out. As flames grew closer to their units, those residents told sister station KCNC that they realized the only way to possibly survive would be to jump.

Residents who had already made it to safety raced to get mattresses, blankets and sheets to be tied together as makeshift ropes and anything else they could find to make the jump as safe as possible.

Warren Ratcliff told KCNC he got his truck and drove to help one trapped family.

“A couple guys threw some mattresses in the back of my truck and we tied some blankets together we just made a little rope to get the family from the top floor,” he said.

“The dad that was up there caught them and tied them off to something and we told him to send the kid down and they all started shimmying down the rope while Warren held it tight,” Bryan Schoff, another neighbor, told KCNC.

Christopher Johnson told KCNC that his family climbed down with a rope, but he got separated from them. His only way out was through a sealed bathroom window.

“I had to wrap my hand in a towel, grab a candle and bust the window open. Thankfully somebody brought out a mattress which broke my fall,” Johnson said.

Some of the trapped tenants didn't have time to wait for help. Lenise Ruff says her neighbors did what they could to encourage her.

“We went to my bedroom, opened the window and I was screaming for help out the window. A bunch of our neighbors gathered around us — we’re on the third floor — and they were just like ‘Just throw out as many blankets as you can. You have to jump! You have to jump!’” Ruff told KCNC.

Ruff suffered burns on her hands. Her roommate suffered more serious injuries, breaking two vertebrae in her lower back.

“We woke up, smelled the smoke, tried to go out our front door but instantly my face got singed and my hands got burned from trying to open the door and close the door,” Ruff said.

The fire damaged twelve units. The American Red Cross is helping residents that have been displaced.

Eight people were injured.

Authorities are asking that anyone with photos or videos of the fire to share them with officials.