Science saves Modesto fire victim

A west Modesto woman was rescued from her burning apartment early Monday thanks to firefighters equipped with a high-tech camera that enabled them to see through dense smoke.

Lola Wilson, 68, was reported to be in stable condition Monday night in the intensive care unit at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto.

She was carried out of the blaze by Modesto fire Capt. Jesse Nicasio, who used a thermal imaging camera to spot her lying on her kitchen floor.

The rescue took just a few minutes, thanks to the imaging device. While Modesto firefighter Ryan Hines used a fire hose to douse the flames inside the apartment, Nicasio used the camera to scan for a "heat signature" consistent with a human body.

Such cameras, which cost $9,000 to $15,000, have been standard equipment for about a decade on all Modesto fire engines and trucks.

"We use them in every structure fire. It's like having eyes that let you see through the smoke," Battalion Chief Hugo Patino said.

Patino said Monday's rescue was the result of valiant efforts by firefighters, police officers and paramedics.

Neighbors also helped.

Barbara Thorne, who lives near Wilson in El Casa Verde Apartments at 1513 Robertson Road, happened to look out her window about midnight and spotted the flames. She called 911, then tried to help Wilson.

"I banged on her door and told her to unlock it, but she didn't answer," Thorne said. Other neighbors joined her efforts. "We tried to kick the door in, but that didn't work."

Neighbors eventually used a crowbar to pry the door open, but Thorne said the smoke was so thick "you couldn't see two feet inside the door."

Patino said police officers also attempted to help Wilson, but they were repelled by heat and smoke. Police and neighbors used a water hose to douse flames until firefighters arrived a few moments later.

Wilson wasn't breathing when she was pulled from the blaze. Patino said paramedics provided rapid treatment at the scene to keep her alive, then rushed her to the hospital.

Another victim of the blaze was rushed to get medical care: Wilson's 3-year-old Chihuahua, Angel, was taken by police to a veterinarian for smoke inhalation treatment.

Thorne picked up Angel on Monday morning, and she said the dog seemed fine.

Investigation of the fire continues, but Patino said the sus- pected cause is an unattended lit cigarette that caught the living room couch on fire. The fire was contained in Wilson's one- bedroom, ground-floor apartment.

Patino estimated the apartment sustained about $30,000 in damage to the structure and $20,000 in losses of its contents.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jsbranti@modbee.com or 578-2196.