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Residents recall massive overnight fire

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LAWTON, Okla._An early Monday morning apartment fire destroyed eight units and even forced some people to jump from their windows has been ruled accidental.

Flames soared at least 20 feet high ravaging the west Lawton apartment building within minutes. Fire investigators say the inferno was sparked in one of the unit's kitchens. From there, flames spread to an outside breezeway trapping the people above forcing them to jump.

Residents said they couldn't believe just how fast the fire spread. They watched in horror as one mother dropped her young child to bystanders below. One resident living inside the apartment said she had just laid down when a commotion woke her to the terror that would follow.

"I went to the door not knowing that there was a fire and there was just a blaze coming up. So I slammed the door shut and ran back to the window and started screaming I can't get out. I can't get out," said Riegina Atkinson, one of the trapped residents.

Atkinson felt helpless, trapped in her apartment as flames threatened to destroy everything. As her neighbors jumped to safety--- she refused. Riegina was the last to be saved waiting for help she thought might never make it.

"By that time the lights went out. Smoke started filling up the apartment. I could feel heat coming through the walls. I could feel heat on the back of me. It was just real scary," said Atkinson.

Firefighters used their ladder to pull her to safety just in time.

"By that time it was filled with black smoke. They could no longer see me all they could do was hear me. I had to breathe through a sheet. Frantic at that time, wishing that I had jumped," said Atkinson.

Amber Kendall lives in the apartment building next door and was drawn outside by screams.

"As soon as I came out this was engulfed, the whole section," said Kendall.

She immediately sprang into action knowing that the family inside one of the upstairs apartments had a one-year-old child.

"I said everyone start banging on windows we have got to get people up," recalled Kendall.

She said she begged the mother to drop the girl to safety as smoke poured into their windows.

"I knew that we had to get it out because as soon as they opened that window that smoke was just coming out. The baby was so young and I just thought that if we don't get it out, she might lose that baby. I just felt desperate," said Kendall.

She and her other neighbors worked together to get everyone to safety, pulling mattresses and putting themselves in harms way to break peoples' falls.

"We were all where we were supposed to be. We all came together in this building. We worked together. It was just amazing," said Kendall.

And despite the extreme loss, residents like Riegina are just happy to be alive.

"Thank God we made it. It's material things but it is all we had. We lost everything but we can live another day," said Atkinson.

A total of eight apartment units suffered significant damage and two were ruled a total loss.

Several people were taken to hospitals with smoke inhalation, twisted ankles and scrapes. At last check, one person is still in the hospital. Lawton firefighters are still working to determine the total cost of the damage.

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