Hickory Village tenant describes being trapped in burning building, rescued

MISHAWAKA, Ind.-- Destiny Mena was watching a movie with her boyfriend in their apartment at Hickory Village when she smelled something burning.

"I open our apartment door and there's nothing but a big, thick smoke," Mena said. "Just hits me in my face. I couldn't breathe or smell. I'm like 'oh my god, there's a fire downstairs.'"

She says all the exits were blocked by smoke or flames, so they ran to the bathroom. The fire was coming from the apartment right below them.

The couple was frantically on the phone with the police.

"It felt like we were on our last breaths. It was so scary," she said. "That's when my boyfriend heard the firefighters banging on our door."

Their apartment was blanketed and their lungs were filling with smoke.

"It was pitch black, like you couldn't see anything," she said. "I felt like my eyes were closed."

But first responders finally rescued the pair, escorting them out of their apartment.

"After we just-- we both cried and hugged each other and thanked God," she said. "It was scary."

The couple is safe but traumatized.

"It smelled really burnt. It just smelled like burnt rubber. And, like, it burned. The feeling just burned. It gave me a massive headache, you know, sore throat. Still have a sore throat, still have a headache," Mena said. "We went to the hospital, and they found a little bit of carbon monoxide in our systems. So, yeah, we're going to be experiencing headaches here and there for a while because of it."

Now, they are looking for somewhere else to live. And they aren't the only ones.

"On the other side of the stairwell from where the fire was, they couldn't get out because the smoke was so thick, so they were putting ladders up to balconies and helping them down to get out," said tenant Theresa Shingledecker.

She said everything happened so fast. While her apartment wasn't close to the blaze, she was evacuated from her building and watched the rescues occur.

"I opened my door and saw the smoke and realized, 'uh oh, it's go time,'" she said. "You get the occasional 'whoops I burned my toast' kind of thing, but not this big."

Although no tenants were injured in the fire, one pet died, and Shingledecker says one concern sticks with her.

"I feel like they could have a fire bell inside the apartments because I didn’t wake up to the fire bell going off at all," she said.

The bells are in the hallway on each story of the building, positioned in a central location so the alarm can be heard from every apartment. However, Shingledecker said she didn't wake up until she heard pounding on her door from firefighters.

"Yeah it was a little scary to think 'uh oh, I didn't hear this, it didn’t wake me up,'" she said.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated.

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