Four students were able to escape their apartment unit after it caught on fire early Friday, May 10, despite their smoke detectors not alerting them of the fire.

The San Luis Obispo Fire Department arrived at the Lee Arms Apartment Complex on California Boulevard after receiving a 911 call at 4:43 a.m. A first-floor bedroom was engulfed in flames after a candle was left unattended by the occupants before going to sleep, according to San Luis Obispo Fire Department Deputy Chief Keith Aggson.  

Video by Kylie Smith

According to one of the tenant’s fathers, the tenants had taken the smoke detector in the kitchen off of the wall. However, the smoke detector in his daughter’s bedroom where the fire started was intact and on the wall, yet did not get set off likely due to dead batteries.

Firefighters arrived quickly and began controlling the fire from the outside before transitioning into the interior, Aggson said. Fire personnel and San Luis Obispo Police evacuated the surrounding units before the fire was controlled within 10 to 15 minutes, he said.

Connor McCarthy | Mustang News

Apartment residents were able to escape by the time firefighters arrived. Despite the severity of the fire, only one of the residents sustained a minor first-degree burn and was treated at the scene.

“Literally one or two breaths of the smoke being emitted from the products of combustion would make you unconscious. They’re very fortunate they didn’t become incapacitated with the amount of smoke that was there, and, had it been just a minute more, it may have been an entirely different outcome,”Aggson said.

Before leaving the apartment, the residents shut the door of the bedroom that was on fire. Aggson said that may have prevented the blaze from being even more destructive.

“Just by the simple act of shutting the door, the fire was confined and made it safe for the occupants in the other bedroom to exit and not be affected by the fire,” Aggson said.

Besides Unit 1, firefighters cleared the building and residents were allowed to return to their apartments.

The apartment manager was not available for comment.

Editors note: This story has been updated to reflect that only one smoke detector had been taken off of the wall. 

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