The quick actions of Dennis Lisack averted what could have been a bigger tragedy when he pulled his girlfriend out of a burning apartment Saturday evening at the Cimarron Apartments in Mesa.
Less than five minutes after he placed cooking oil on the stove for french fries, Lisack went outside to put some hamburgers on the grill for him and his girlfriend, Pamala Johnson, Lisack told police and fire investigators.
But less than five minutes was all it took for the first-floor apartment to be engulfed in flames, causing Johnson — who is blind from a stroke — to make her way to the patio and alert Lisack of the fire inside.
At least two apartments were destroyed at the close-knit complex at 151 E. First St., shortly after the fire broke out about 6:15 p.m. Three other units were evacuated due to smoke damage, according to Dave Royer, spokesman for Mesa fire department.
Four Mesa fire engines responded. Flames spread rapidly from Lisack’s apartment to the one directly above it, which also was destroyed. It took fire crews about an hour to extinguish the fire.
“It got hot, it got so hot,” Johnson said as she was being hugged by a neighbor while fire crews got the fire under control.
“I knew something was wrong. I yelled to Dennis that there must be a fire because of the sudden heat.”
No injuries were reported, but Lisack burned his left hand coming out of the kitchen area as he ran back inside to lead Johnson out.
“The fire spread pretty quick,” said Lisack as he was holding his hand in a pan of cold water inside a neighbor’s apartment. “I could lose a lot of things, but I couldn’t lose Pamala.”
Lisack and Johnson were staying with neighbors Saturday night.
About 30 tenants were standing outside watching fire crews extinguish the fire inside the three-story building during a Mesa police GAIN Night block party.
Ruth Conway, a six-year resident of the complex, said she could see the smoke and glow from the fire as she and her boyfriend were driving up Center Street.
“We were coming home from the casino,” Conway said. “I freaked out because they blocked our entrances. I came running up the walk yelling, ‘Fire! Fire!’”