"All I cared about was saving them," Maria de Jesus Vazquez said Monday by phone of how she made a sling out of a bedsheet to lower three of her four children -- ages 8 years, 4 years and 9 months -- to safety from their second-story apartment, which was on fire. Her oldest son, David Villegas, 10, stayed by her side.
"I told him, 'You have to be strong. If you start to cry I don't know what I'll do,'" she said.
She and David eventually made it out the front door and down the apartment steps, unharmed.
Vazquez's 8-year-old daughter, Noemi, alerted their downstairs neighbors, who were already sleeping.
"Her daughter, the one she lowered down, came and knocked on our door," said Myra Diaz, 16, whose family lived in a ground-floor apartment very near the flames. "She said 'Come help me, my mom's on fire.'"
She, her two sisters and their mom woke up in a hurry and went outside.
"After everyone got out, the fire started getting bigger," she said. "It was really smoky."
Others, some whom tenants knew only by sight, took it upon themselves to knock on doors to wake everyone up.
Monday all six displaced families were staying at Quincy Inn & Suites, where the Red Cross had placed them, until they can find a more permanent home.
The Housing Authority of Grant County hopes to place all the families in longer-term housing this week.
The 24 members of the six affected families include five children younger than 4, and one person older than 62, said Sandy Cain, emergency services director for the Apple Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross.
The two-story wood apartment building contained eight units and was part of a complex of four buildings, said Tony Leibelt, assistant chief of Grant County Fire District 3. Two of the units in the affected building were vacant.
Two of the units were damaged by flames, Leibelt said. The others, including the Diaz family's, were affected by water and firefighters' efforts to access and extinguish the blaze.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. The building is now evacuated, but many personal items remain inside.
Bellevue-based United Marketing manages the complex. Managers on the scene declined to comment, but said they're working to place some of the affected families in another complex the company manages in nearby Ephrata.
The Red Cross will continue to help, Cain said, until the families get settled.
"The fact that all 24 of these people escaped with no cuts, scrapes or burns is fantastic," she said. "These are real stories of hope and courage."
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