Yuan Mei Guo could only cling to her 9-month-old daughter and wait helplessly as the flames roared two floors below them.
It was 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Heron Apartments.
Minutes earlier, Guo, 26, was sleeping next to her daughter, Mia, when she woke up to get a glass of water.
She smelled a strange odor and opened the door to investigate, only to be greeted by a thick, black wall of smoke. She slammed the door shut and waited.
“I was scared,” she said Thursday, through an interpreter. “I thought we were going to die.” She held Mia close.
She called her husband, Xing, 27, who was working at his restaurant, New China Town, about a block away.
Xing said he ran out the door immediately and headed to the apartment. He arrived in minutes, but couldn’t enter the place.
The impenetrable smoke thwarted his efforts.
“I tried to go up,” he said, shifting his gaze. “Too much smoke.”
Police officers gave it a go, too, but the thick smoke forced them away. Guo was trapped for almost 20 minutes before firefighters could bust down the door and snatch up Mia. Guo then followed the rescuers down the stairs, through the blinding smoke.
She said she held onto a firefighter’s coat, but couldn’t see anything as the group descended.
By the time they got outside, Guo was dizzy and had a pounding headache. Mia’s nose was black with soot.
The infant’s wails were continuous. Guo and Mia, along with apartment residents Dave Cline and Cheryl Caniff, were taken to Firelands Regional Medical Center after the fire. They were all treated and later released.
In the end, firefighters staved off what had all the makings of a tragedy.
Days later, the apartment residents are beginning the immense effort to piece their lives back together.
The Guo family, which also includes Xing’s mother and sister, is now living out of a motel room they rented with funds from the Red Cross.
Wednesday night was their last scheduled night, but the cleanup efforts had only just begun.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Guo said.
Early Thursday, the Red Cross stepped in yet again and extended the family’s hotel stay indefinitely.
“We’ll work with them until those apartments are cleaned up and they can move back in,” Red Cross employee Ron Rude said. “We’ll be there to make sure their essential needs are covered.”
Cleanup at the apartment should be finished by Saturday at the latest, Rude said.
The state fire marshal’s office is still trying to pinpoint the cause of the blaze.
Huron fire Chief Steve Osterling said crews snuffed the flames in about 10 minutes. Damages are estimated at about $50,000.
The fire started in apartment manager Jim Jones’ ground-floor apartment, firefighters said.
The fire itself was contained to that one apartment, although multiple units sustained smoke damage.