Firefighters pulled a Richland man through heavy dark smoke and out of a burning apartment complex off George Washington Way on Thursday night.
The man reportedly suffered from smoke inhalation and was taken to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland. Fire officials said he might be flown to a Seattle hospital for treatment.
His name and condition were not released Thursday night.
The two-alarm fire started just before 8 p.m. at the Casa Grande Apartments at 1930 George Washington Way.
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The 36-unit complex was evacuated as about 50 firefighters from eight agencies fought the blaze.
Firefighters encountered thick smoke as they entered the burning building to rescue the man trapped inside his first-floor apartment.
"They were in full smoke blackout trying to get the patient out," said Richland Fire Chief Grant Baynes.
Richland Fire Marshal Kurt Hubele said the firefighters pulled the victim out through the front of the building. "They couldn't even tell where they were until they got out," he said.
Citizens also had tried to help the man before the first responders arrived.
Investigators haven't determined a cause for the fire but Baynes said it might have started just outside a ground-floor apartment and spread from there.
"There may be as many as four units involved," he said.
The flames spread to two second-floor units above, then reached into the building's attic space. Several other apartments likely suffered smoke damage, and the fire also damaged part of the siding on an adjacent building.
Apartment residents were evacuated and it's not clear when they were going to be allowed back into their homes.
Two fire chaplains were working with residents Thursday night to make sure they had a place to stay, or to connect them with the Red Cross for assistance if they had nowhere to go. Most of them were placed with friends and family.
Only one family said they had renter's insurance, a chaplain said. Not all 36 units were occupied at the time of the fire, officials said.
A man who declined to give his name said his girlfriend lived at the complex in an apartment near where the fire started. She was home at the time and managed to rescue one of her two cats before fleeing.
"She had to come out the sliding-glass door and jump the fence," he said.
The other cat was found later by firefighters and handed to the man in a green pet carrier. It was one of three cats rescued from the apartment building. One missing cat was later found dead near a tree outside.
Fire crews from the Richland, Hanford, Kennewick and Pasco fire departments responded, as did Benton fire districts 1 and 4, Franklin Fire District 3 and Walla Walla Fire District 5.
Firefighters from Benton Fire District 2 staffed Richland's fire stations to help answer other calls while crews were at the apartment complex blaze.
The Benton County Sheriff's Office and Richland Police Department also assisted.
Bystanders and residents filled the apartment complex parking lot and side streets watching firefighters climb onto the roof to get access to the flames.
It took about 45 minutes to get the fire contained, but crews were on scene for several hours making sure all the hot spots were out.
Chief Baynes said investigators don't yet know if the part of the building where the fire started had smoke detectors.
A portion of the apartment building, which was remodeled after a fatal fire in 2000, is equipped with smoke detectors and has fire doors, which officials said helped keep the flames and smoke from spreading.
Armin Mehinagic, who lives across the street from the complex, said he and his family saw and smelled the smoke.
He said he used to live there years ago and recalled a man dying in a fire.
"It's bringing back memories from 10 years ago," he said.
Andrew Dean Clark, 35, died of smoke inhalation in the 2000 fire, according to an August 2000 autopsy report. Fire officials said they could not find a cause for the blaze and didn't think Clark had any role in starting it.
w Reporter Ty Beaver contributed to this report.