Man killed in early morning apartment fire

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PHOENIX – A man is dead after an early morning fire at a large apartment complex in North Phoenix.

Firefighters were called to the Bell Tower Apartments on 33rd Avenue just north of Bell Road at about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Eugene Alcantar called 911 to report flames shooting from one of the apartments. He was watching television when he realized a fire had broken out in the unit across from him. 

"I tried to help, knock on doors to get people out of their apartments and just get out of there as fast as I could," he said.

When crews arrived on the scene, they found a ground-floor corner apartment in an eight-unit building, one of several, engulfed in flames.

“We had heavy fire coming out of basically every window and door of this first-floor apartment,” said Capt. Scott Walker of the Phoenix Fire Department. “Crews immediately began forcing their way into this apartment. … They basically encountered fire immediately, they said. They actually had to fight fire to work their way into the building.”

Once inside, firefighters were able to get a handle on the flames relatively quickly.

After getting things under control in the burning apartment, crews found the body of man. Investigators said it looked like he was trying to escape, but was overcome by smoke and never made it out.

The victim has not been identified and no information about him has been released. Alcantar said he saw him several times in passing, but didn't know anything about his neighbor other than that he lived there alone.

"It's just really sad. You never think it's going to be you, until something like this happens," Alcantar explained. "It makes you think twice, to be prepared, to have a fire escape plan."

According to a friend of the victim, the man was in his 50s and was a smoker. That friend said the man was recovering from a recent car wreck and that his injuries had caused him quite a bit of pain.

Tuesday morning's fire call was escalated to a first alarm because the Bell Tower complex is so large, home to dozens of residents, with the potential for flames to spread throughout several building. Firefighter teams from both Phoenix and Glendale were called out.

Flames did spread to one upstairs unit. The remaining six apartments sustained smoke and water damage.

The Red Cross responded to help displaced residents, some of whom were moved to vacant units at the complex. No one else was hurt in the fire.

It’s not yet known what sparked the flames, but at this point crews on the scene do not believe it is suspicious. Investigators are trying to determine how the deadly fire started.