Two men trapped by an early morning fire inside a Central City apartment frantically screamed for help as Sarah Thomas tried to hammer through a back window to free them.
Burglar bars blocked her blows, so it fell to firefighters to charge into the building and save the men.
No serious injuries were reported as a result of the blaze, but for the New Orleans Fire Department, it capped off an eventful Thursday morning in which firefighters saved three people from two fires.
Louis Carrier, a Fire Department spokesman, said the Central City fire started shortly before 4:30 a.m. at 1717 Jackson Ave.
Thomas said she was asleep in her back unit of the converted duplex when she heard her neighbor in the front unit screaming, “Help!”
Thomas woke up, realized there was a fire and called 911.
The fire, which started on the building’s porch, was blocking her neighbor’s exit through the front. Thomas said her neighbor and a second man, who was staying in the property as an Airbnb guest, rushed to the back of the house.
It was there that Thomas, who works as a bartender on the West Bank, tried to use a hammer to rescue them. As she hacked away at the glass, though, she realized the bars would prevent them from escaping there.
“I can’t get this out with a hammer!” Thomas told herself. By that point, fortunately, firefighters had arrived.
The Fire Department said the 21 firefighters on the scene began attacking the fire, covered the victims in protective clothing and brought them out through the front door. Both men were treated for smoke inhalation on the scene, and one was taken to a hospital for evaluation.
Thomas praised the firefighters for their “awesome” work, which included saving her cats, Sake and Bellatrix.
Thomas said she did not know why the Airbnb customer was staying in the house. After the blaze, however, she did hear him muse on his good fortune.
“Dude, if I would have died, my wife would have probably killed me,” she recalled the man saying.
Carrier, the Fire Department spokesman, said investigators were still working to determine the cause of the blaze. He noted that the building had been converted into a duplex, with the front unit having only one exit and no working smoke alarm.
The building’s owner, Terry Hampton, is a retired Fire Department captain. He said the building already had been converted into a duplex when he bought it as a rental property in the early 1980s, and that he believed it met all code requirements.
Hampton said he knows all too well the toll fires can take, so he installs smoke alarms in all his buildings. He also expressed surprise to learn his tenant had posted his apartment on Airbnb.
“If he was doing a (bed-and-breakfast), I didn’t know about it,” Hampton said.
Hampton said he called the firefighters involved when he heard about the blaze to congratulate them on a “good save.” The fire was brought under control at 4:56 a.m., just over 30 minutes after it was called in.
Firefighters at Engine No. 38, meanwhile, had a short commute when a fire was called in about 12:45 a.m. at a residence at 2601-03 Robert St. The fire station is directly across the street from the single-story home.
Firefighters went inside the house and found a woman who was trying to find her way out.
Paramedics treated the woman for smoke inhalation on the scene, and the fire was brought under control within six minutes.