Yolanda Goodman was visiting a friend when she saw the smoke.
“I said, ‘There’s some smoke going on! Let’s go, let’s go; there must be a fire,” she said.
The fire broke out at the Orr-Weathers apartment building just after 2 a.m.
“There was tremendous smoke so thick you could choke on it in a minute flat and the heat was unbearable,” said Thomas Dunn, an apartment resident.
Three residents were injured. One of those people was taken from the scene in critical condition and later died at the hospital. He was identified as 60-year-old Arthur Jefferson. An autopsy is scheduled and could determine if the fire played any part in his death.
The other two victims suffered minor burns to their hands and did not need hospitalization. A firefighter was also treated at the scene for smoke inhalation. Ninety-one people live in the building, many of whom are elderly or disabled.
“Residents start to panic when they smell the smoke, hear the alarm,” said East St. Louis Fire Chief Jason Blackmon. “We had all our guys come in. We even had guys from St. Louis to assist us to evacuate this building to get the elderly out.”
Blackmon said the fire started in a couch in a hallway on the fourth floor. By dawn, everyone was allowed to return to their apartments except 13 residents on the fourth floor. They had to wait for the State Fire Marshal investigation and cleanup to be completed until they could return home. The American Red Cross took care of them in the meantime.