By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A fire in a high-rise apartment building for senior citizens left five people dead in suburban San Antonio, Texas on Sunday, fire officials said.
Firefighters used ladders to pluck some elderly residents from the upper floors of the 12-story building. Three patients were transported by ambulance to area hospitals, San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said.
"After looking at the floors, it is amazing that we did not have more loss of life," he said.
The fire broke out about 6:30 a.m. at the Wedgewood Senior Living Center in Castle Hills, a suburb surrounded by San Antonio.
Hood said more than 160 firefighters from six fire departments were called to the scene. Firefighters immediately began rushing residents out and, in some cases, senior citizens had to be taken from their rooms by firefighters on ladders, he said.
"Approximately 75 residents were evacuated from their rooms, several of whom were non-ambulatory and physically had to be removed, being carried down the stairs or rescued off of balconies, or being removed from the top floors by platform trucks."
Hood said several hundred people live in the building, and many of them were able to leave on their own.
A dozen San Antonio city buses were lined up in front of the building to provide shelter for the senior citizens from a steady rain and temperatures in the 40's.
A shelter was set up at a nearby high school for evacuated seniors.
Hood said the damage to the third floor of the building, where the fire apparently started, was significant.
"The third floor hallway is absolutely gutted, the doors are charged, and the smoke and fire was communicated throughout the building, so it is truly amazing we are not standing here talking about a greater loss of life."
Jerry Reidel, the fire chief in Castle Hills, said the cause of the fire had yet to be determined.
(Editing by Michael Urquhart)