Mom, daughters thank officer who caught them as they jumped from burning 2nd story apartment

Grease fire gutted several Clairemont apartments

SAN DIEGO - A mother and her two daughters are reflecting on how fortunate they are to have survived an apartment fire in Clairemont on Monday night.

Massive flames were racing through the Stratton Apartments on Caminito Aguilar.

"It was terrifying," said 16-year-old Gabrielle Atkins as she recalled those frightening moments. Gabrielle, her mother and sister are safe now but scared.

The American Red Cross arranged lodging for the family at a Motel 6 on Hotel Circle. When asked if she could sleep there, 13-year-old Lucy Atkins responded, "Kind of. I'm so shaken up. I don't know. I'm just so scared, like it'll happen again. I couldn't… I had bad dreams trying to go to sleep like five in the morning."

Gabrielle echoed that thought.

"We kind of all fell asleep sobbing," she said. "My mom cried in her sleep. She cried."

Gabrielle told 10News she remembers smoke, sirens and a pounding at the door. She leaped from her bed.

"Completely already filled with smoke and flames… tried to go to the front door but it's too late, the door's already covered with flames," she recalled.

She was frantically calling for their mother in the next room. Both girls were panicking. Lucy fumbled for the window latch but could not open it. Gabrielle found another option. 

"So I take her iPad, break open the window [and] pushed my sister out first," she said. "My mom finally came to the door and I pushed her out before me and I wait until they're both down safely and I jumped out by myself."

All fell two stories into the waiting arms of San Diego police Officer Zack Bradley, who deflected praise. 

"You get them out," he said. "That's our main goal and function. I told them to jump out the window and as they did I caught them."

With the flames at their backs, it still took courage and inspiration to jump.  Judith Hsu, the girls' mother, reached back to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City.

"When I jump, I think of those people in 9/11," she said. "They jumped from such a high tower. It's the second floor, you have to jump for survival... so we did."

They have many to thank. Gabrielle had these words for Officer Bradley.

"I just want to say thank you for breaking our fall and thank you for climbing over that fence and finding us," she said.

The girls' mother went back to work on Tuesday, walking with crutches after spraining her ankle in the jump. The girls are healthy and hope to return to classes at Marston Middle School and Clairemont High School on Thursday.

Ten people were left homeless by the fire but no one was killed or seriously injured.

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