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Mother, children leap from balcony to escape blaze

Bonita Villa Apartments fire leaves 40 tenants without homes

A Tigard mother and her two small children had to jump from their third-floor apartment Thursday evening to escape their burning apartment.

Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue firefighters said Ola Turner and her 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son leapt from the balcony at the Bonita Villa Apartments, 7515 S.W. Bonita Road, at about 6:45 p.m.

An apartment manager, a maintenance worker and another tenant caught the three. They weren't injured in the escape.

Turner told firefighters that she was on the balcony when she saw smoke wafting from below the balcony. She attempted to leave her apartment with her children, but found the exterior stairwell - her only means of escape - blocked by smoke and fire.

Firefighters from Station 51 were called to the apartment complex shortly after 6 p.m. after heavy smoke was seen roiling out of exterior stairwell and several third-floor balconies.

The two-alarm fire was fought by more than 40 firefighters. Crews battled flames in the stairwell and two apartments, while additional crews searched for occupants in a dozen units.

The fire was under control within 30 minutes and no injuries were reported.

The fire's cause remains under investigation and a damage estimate is pending.

The fire displaced at least 40 tenants from 24 units. Four units sustained fire and smoke damage, several units sustained water damage and 18 units were uninhabitable when the electrical power was disconnected due to safety reasons.

The American Red Cross will provide temporary shelter to many of the tenants.

In the past decade, the fire district has responded to more than 1,060 apartment fires, in which 19 people have died and moe than 50 people have been injured.

The Bonita Villa Apartments complex has a sad history with fires. In December 2000, firefighters responded to a three-alarm in which a man was killed after going back into his apartment to find his son, who had already escaped.

Tragically, fire district officials found a non-working smoke alarm in a closet in the apartment where the fire began.

Following that incident, the fire district implemented its apartment program, which includes an apartment liaison, inspections, free educational materials for tenants and landlords and a landlord training workshop.