Police and fire officials continue to investigate an early morning apartment fire that left a Lodi woman dead and gutted her two-story apartment located off Turner Road.
Seven teams of firefighters from Lodi, Mokelumne and Woodbridge fire departments worked through the freezing, early morning to extinguish the blaze. The fire was reported to 911 at about 1:40 a.m., and was extinguished nearly an hour later, at 2:35 a.m.
The female victim was identified by a family member as Jessica Drummond, 33. Family members also said Drummond was pregnant and the mother of 10-year-old twin girls.
Jessica Drummond is the daughter of assistant San Joaquin County Sheriff John Drummond.
While fire officials are taking the lead on the investigation, personnel from the Lodi Police Department, state Fire Marshals and Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were also called in for support.
"Nothing has been ruled out. We have been very careful and we've been using all the tools," Lodi Fire Department division chief of operations Kevin Donnelly said.
He said an autopsy was scheduled for this morning.
Donnelly also said an individual went to apartments to knock on doors and alert residents of the fire.
"We certainly want to recognize him and find out who that citizen was," he said. The fire at Chateau Apartments near the intersection of Church Street and Turner Road displaced at least a dozen other residents who are receiving aid and shelter from the San Joaquin County branch of the American Red Cross.
After arriving at the scene, firefighters saw flames leaping from windows and out of the roof of one of the apartments, said Lodi Fire Marshal Verne Person.
Firefighters worked to extinguish the fire using several lines of water and foam, Person said. During their first attack on the fire, firefighters were forced to back out because of intense heat and flames.
A second alarm was called, and two engines from Woodbridge Fire Department and one from Mokelumne Fire responded. In all, 35 firefighters were on scene.
How to helpOn Wednesday, 12 people evacuated from the Chateau Apartments were assisted by the San Joaquin County chapter of the American Red Cross.
Emergency services director Lee Veselak said people were staying in hotels in Lodi and Stockton, and received debit cards to purchase clothes and food.
The people who lived in damaged apartments will have to find other places to live. Their names have been placed at the top of an emergency housing waiting list, Veselak said.
"Right now it's an in-between time for all these families," Veselak said.
People wanting to help may have to wait a few days. Donations to the San Joaquin County Red Cross may be arranged by calling (209) 466-6971.
- News-Sentinel staff
"It was a very fierce fire," said Person. "It took 30 to 40 minutes to get it knocked down."
Firefighters entered the building on the first floor, and extinguished the fire there first. While fighting the fire on the second floor, they discovered Drummond's body.
The Chateau Apartments has two buildings with six two-story apartments each. The two buildings are separated by a courtyard and swimming pool. The fire broke out in the building fronting Church Street.
Donnelly said firefighters made their way around the east building and entered the apartment through the front door. Meanwhile firefighters cut holes in the roof with chain saws and axes, to relieve air pressure and heat. He added that by the time firefighters arrived, "it was already venting out the windows."
Person said it appeared the fire started on the second floor of the apartment. Stacks of magazines and other materials may have contributed to the rapid spread of flames through the apartment, he said.
When a Christmas tree on the first floor ignited, that probably spread the flames, and "the wood doesn't help with the spread of fire," he added.
Gigi Ponce, a certified nurse's aide, said she was going to sleep after work at about 11 p.m., when her roommate alerted her to the fire.
"We just started running. You can't imagine when a fire breaks out, you don't know what to do," she said.
Lisa Clark, who lives across the way from the destroyed apartment, said she and her neighbors were awakened by sirens and the bright flames.
"It was scary," Clark said. "What was even worse was when the electrical went. The buzzing, the humming. And it looked like lightning."
Person said he couldn't be sure if an annual fire inspection scheduled for December had already occurred. The complex had no pending fire code violations and the only known violation was two years ago when a mattress next to a Dumpster had to be removed, he said.
"If this building was built now it would be required to have sprinklers, and we would have had a different outcome," Person said.
He said the building code did not require sprinklers when the apartment complex was built at least 30 years ago. Each of the two adjoining apartments had smoke detectors that were activated when firefighters arrived.
The complex's property management company is Quality Property Services.
Wednesday afternoon, family members identified the woman found in the apartment. Jason Drummond said his younger sister was alone in her home on Tuesday night. Her twin daughters, Joelle and Francesca, were spending the night at their grandparents' house on East Armstrong Road, as they usually do on Tuesday nights.
Jason Drummond also said his sister was about five months pregnant.
Despite the statements from the family, the coroner's office will conduct an autopsy and has procured dental records in order to identify the body and confirm whether the victim was indeed pregnant.
Wednesday's fire appears to be the first fatal fire in Lodi in a decade.
In April 1996, a 68-year-old man died when a fire swept through his travel trailer at a mobile home park on Cherokee Lane. At the time, officials said the fire was sparked by a smoldering cigarette in a bed.
First published: Thursday, December 21, 2006