Woman Jumps to Her Death as Firefighters in Nebraska Set Up Aerial for Rescue

BARRETT STINSON/WORLD-HERALD

BARRETT STINSON/WORLD-HERALD

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Omaha.Com –  “GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — A widow from Sudan who had lived in the United States for about eight years fell to her death Saturday after a fire broke out in a high-rise apartment building.

The fire was caused by “careless discarding of smoking materials,” Grand Island Fire Division Chief Tim Hiemer said.

The woman was seen hanging out a window on the ninth floor. Grand Island firefighters were trying to set up the 95-foot platform ladder on the department’s only aerial truck when the woman dropped to the awning covering the main entrance to the Centennial Towers high-rise, said Grand Island Fire Division Chief Tim Hiemer. He said the aerial ladder would have reached the eighth floor.

Deputy Hall County Attorney Gail VerMaas identified the woman as Sarah Nyayual Both, 63, of Grand Island.

Memorial services are pending in Grand Island. Full services will be held at a later date in Both’s native Sudan, funeral officials said.

The automatic fire alarm at Centennial Towers activated at 1:10 p.m. The apartment building is an 11-story high-rise owned by the Hall County Housing Authority to provide low-cost rental housing for elderly and low-income individuals. Another call reporting heavy smoke on the eighth floor of the building came into the Grand Island/Hall County 911 Center at 1:11 p.m.

Hiemer said an investigation by the Grand Island Fire Department and the Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office found that the fire broke out in an apartment on the south end of the ninth floor — just down the hall and in the same wing of Both’s apartment. He said the “area of origin was in the living room.”

It wasn’t immediately known if smoking is allowed in Hall County Housing Authority housing units. A call to authority Executive Director Rick Ruzicka wasn’t returned Sunday.

That south-end apartment were the fire started was “completely gutted” by the fire and was “totaled,” Hiemer said. That apartment’s 56-year-old male occupant was found on the ninth floor with “critical” injuries and taken to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and burn center in Lincoln suffering from burns and smoke inhalation, Hiemer said.

Hall County Attorney Jack Zitterkopf identified that occupant as James Curfman.

Hiemer said the cement-block design of Centennial Towers did its job in not letting the flames breach to other apartments. However, heavy black smoke permeated the ninth floor and surrounding floors. He said Both’s apartment had heavy smoke damage.

“We have moderate to heavy smoke damage on the remainder of the floor,” Hiemer said of the ninth floor.

Because utilities were cut to the entire building, Hiemer said all apartments in the high-rise were evacuated. There are 122 one-bedroom apartments and one two-bedroom apartment.

The Central Plains Chapter of the American Red Cross, the Grand Island/Hall County Emergency Management Department and the Hall County Housing Authority assisted evacuees in finding temporary housing. Hiemer said residents were allowed back in briefly on Saturday to retrieve personal items, such as clothes and medicine, but no residents were allowed in Sunday.

“They are hoping within a couple of days they’ll be able to open up most of the building,” Hiemer said.”

BARRETT STINSON/WORLD-HERALD

BARRETT STINSON/WORLD-HERALD

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