- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

EVANS, Ga. (AP) - An elderly woman died in a fire at an eastern Georgia retirement community Tuesday and authorities say a second woman was rescued after spending hours inside the heavily damaged complex.

Dorothy Carpenter, 91, likely died of smoke inhalation Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins told the Augusta Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1FrO649 ).

Fire alarms went off shortly after 3 a.m. Tuesday at the Marshall Square retirement community in Evans. The blaze had destroyed most of the central part of the multistory complex by 5 a.m. and was spreading into the eastern wing, according to the newspaper.

Residents, many in their pajamas and using walkers or wheelchairs, were evacuated and taken to the auditorium of the nearby county government center to wait until they are picked up by relatives or placed in temporary housing. County emergency and operations director Pam Tucker said many residents had been picked up by family members by 8 a.m.

Another elderly woman was inside the complex for hours before being pulled from the rubble of her third floor apartment, Vince Brogdon of Gold Cross ambulance service told the newspaper. Doctors Hospital spokeswoman Lindsay Thetford said the woman was in good condition.

Eugene Brand, 81, told the newspaper he was awakened by alarms around 3:15 a.m. and left the building thinking it was a drill or false alarm.

“If I had known it was a real fire I would have taken some of my stuff,” he said, as flames ate away at the east wing where his apartment was on the third floor.

Hollis Key, 75, said he and his wife Marguerite, 71, also thought it was a false alarm until firefighters burst through their door while sweeping the building.

“I heard the fire alarms, but they kept going on and off. That happens a lot,” Key said.

Their daughters, Heidi and Saran, heard about the fire on a news broadcast around 5:30 a.m., but they weren’t able to reach their parents right away.

“I think we were racing with other families,” Saran Key said of her drive to the complex. “It was scary.”

Battalion Chief Jeremy Wallen said about 75 paid and volunteer fire department personnel responded to the scene, along with the department’s two aerial ladder truck, five pumper trucks and assorted other vehicles. Their first priority was evacuating residents.

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Information from: The Augusta Chronicle , http://www.augustachronicle.com

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