"I came out with my pants half down around my knees and carrying my shoes," said Knowles, 58, a pharmacist for Contra Costa County. "When I opened the door, there was this huge wall of fire."
Sensing that his escape route was blocked, he used a back door and edged along a wooden walkway, facing the flames, to reach the street.
Three others in the building, including his sister on the top floor, escaped unharmed, he said. He credited the first three firefighters on the scene with saving his building, although just barely. The wooden wall of his condominium facing the fire was blackened, and in places the vinyl siding and underlying insulation were melted and twisted by the intense heat.
Meanwhile, Councilman Butt said he felt squeezed by the tactics of unionized firefighters and the specter of city bankruptcy. The City Council has considered a variety of cost-saving measures -- even cutting its own ranks from seven to five members. That proposal failed.
"Things look pretty bleak out there," Butt said.