Woman dies in fire at San Juan apartment complex

An apartment fire Friday night in San Juan Bautista killed one

A senior citizen died and another was sent to the hospital after
a fire burned through an apartment complex in downtown San Juan
Bautista near Windmill Market on Friday night.
A senior citizen died and another was sent to the hospital after a fire burned through an apartment complex in downtown San Juan Bautista near Windmill Market on Friday night.

Around 8:30 p.m. Friday, flames engulfed three units of the 10-apartment, two-story structure on Fifth Street.

The woman killed in the fire was identified as 69-year-old Ann Mills. The man injured was 70-year-old Mark Forrester. They both lived in the apartment where the fire started.

The blaze started in Apartment 1 on the first floor. When the fire department arrived, the blaze had spread into the two apartments above it, San Juan Bautista Fire Chief Chris Finstad said. A vehicle in the parking lot also was in flames. Once responders arrived, the fire was contained within 30 minutes.

Firefighters discovered the man in the parking lot with serious third-degree burns over his face and hands, Finstad said. The man was treated at the scene and flown to Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center. As of Saturday, he was listed in serious condition.

They found the deceased woman in the first apartment after firefighters extinguished the blaze, according to a press release from the fire department. The cause of her death is still being investigated by the coroner’s office.

During the blaze, deputies from the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office evacuated the rest of the building. Eight of the 10 apartments were occupied at the time of the fire, and 40 individuals were removed from their homes, Finstad said.

“The building cannot be occupied at this time, but luckily there were no other injuries,” Finstad said.

Seven families were displaced by the fire and are being assisted by the American Red Cross for Monterey and San Benito counties, according to the statement.

The San Juan Bautista Fire Department called for mutual aid from the Hollister Fire Department and San Benito County Fire to help quell the fire.

San Juan Bautista Major Ed Laverone praised the quick work by the fire department, calling it exceptional.

“There is no reason why that building is still standing other than they (the firefighters) did one heck of a job,” he said. ‘It’s tragic, but more tragedy was avoided because of the fire department.”

Supervisor Anthony Botelho said they fire department did an “incredible job.”

“It was a pretty incredible job by the San Juan Fire Department to stop that fire from burning down the entire complex and damaging Windmill Market,” he said, of the business just a block or so away. “They exhibited that they are well trained and have the skills to fight a fire of that complexity.”

The Monterey County Arson Task Force, Seaside Fire Department and North Monterey County Fire are assisting with the investigation on the fire’s cause.

As of Monday morning, the fire department had yet to make a conclusion on the cause of the fire but officials are investigating, Finstad said.

“We are still trying to interview some witnesses – we are still trying to conduct our investigation,” Finstad said.

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