Candle the cause of apartment fire

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SOUTH SALT LAKE -- A South Salt Lake apartment went up in flames thanks to a candle. The fire started in the basement of an apartment around 2:00 Monday morning. One of the residents in the apartment near 2250 South and 500 East told firefighters she lit a small candle to read a book, but then fell asleep with it still burning.

Maria Hernandez says she only fell asleep for a few minutes with the candle burning. Then she said the next thing she knew, the entire room was filled with smoke. "It was just a candle, just a scented candle I lit, and that's all it was," she said.

That's all it was, and that's all it took. Now Hernandez is realizing just how lucky she is to be alive. "It scares me. I didn't realize how close to death we were," she said.

Sheets from her bed apparently fell onto the flame. Before long, flames were shooting out of the basement window.

"I woke up to heat on my cheek, and I turned over and the corner of the bed was on fire," Hernandez said.

Hernandez says she called out to her 16-year-old niece who was sleeping in the next room over.

"She's like, ‘Call 911.' And I'm like, ‘With what? The whole room is on fire,'" Hernandez said.

Hernandez, her niece, and her sister all evacuated the apartment, but by the time firefighters arrived, the flames had consumed most of the basement.

South Salt Lake Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Bowman, said, "There was a lot of fuel load in there, a lot of books, a lot of furniture, clothes. And so, with that fuel load and an open flame, it definitely didn't take a long time to spread."

Overall, investigators estimate the fire caused about $40,000 in damage. That included Hernandez's bed, clothes, DVDs and rent money.

"I had the rent money sitting on the dresser because we were going to pay. And now that's all gone, my license, my ID, I can't look for work now, it's gone," she said. Firefighters made the decision this morning that there was just too much damage to the basement of the apartment for Maria and her family to stay there so the Red Cross has stepped in to help find them a place to stay.



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