Stephen Carr  /  AP
An upper floor of a high-rise residence burns Wednesday night in Long Beach, Calif. One person died after jumping from the balcony, authorities said.
updated 3/29/2007 4:48:55 PM ET 2007-03-29T20:48:55

A resident of a burning oceanfront high-rise apartment jumped to his death from an 18th-story balcony as a crowd of people watched helplessly, authorities said Thursday.

The flames appeared to be restricted largely to the apartment of John Carlyle Crews, 60, who was unable to escape, authorities said.

“He was screaming, ’Help me, I don’t want to die. Somebody please help me,”’ witness Saida Caal told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “He was catching on fire, and he just jumped off the balcony.”

A crowd of more than 25 people saw the man leap late Wednesday, said firefighter Will Nash, a spokesman for the Long Beach Fire Department.

“You could really see the black smoke,” said Tim McTavish, a real estate agent who watched the fire from his back yard about a block away. “We heard a bunch of screaming. A loud scream, a death kind of scream.”

Officials said they didn’t believe the fire was intentional but the investigation was ongoing.

The building, called Galaxy Towers, did not have sprinklers because it was constructed in 1966 before the equipment was mandated, fire department spokesman Chris Milburn said.

City officials intended to meet Thursday to discuss requiring older buildings to install sprinklers, he said.

The building’s X-shaped architecture, with only four units per floor and no long hallways, helped keep the flames from spreading and allowed firefighters to more easily evacuate residents from upper floors.

The top two floors were charred, with windows broken out and blue paint melted away.

Long Beach is about 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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