People hung out of windows of the Palos Verdes Inn in San Pedro after the fire broke out at about 3:30 a.m., and one woman jumped from a second-story window and may have broken bones, Fire Department spokesman Erik Scott said.
Other residents were threatening to jump, he said.
“Firefighters immediately threw ladders and rescued them from ledges,” Scott said.
Firefighters returning from a nearby medical call saw smoke at the hotel before any 911 call had been received, he said.
It took 150 firefighters 34 minutes to extinguish the blaze, which spread rapidly through the 1923 building. Television news reports showed flames engulfing the interiors of some rooms.
Seven rooms were damaged, two of them extensively, Scott said.
Tiffany Rogers, who is five months pregnant, raced out of the building.
“I couldn't even see through the smoke. I couldn't breathe. I was coughing. It was horrible,” she told KABC-TV as she stood in the dark with a blanket draped around her shoulders.
“Right now, I'm really stressed out because I don't have anywhere to go,” she said.
Fourteen people were hurt and 12 of them were sent to hospitals, including three in critical condition from burns or smoke inhalation, Scott said. The injured included a police officer who was helping residents and suffered smoke inhalation.
Firefighters also gave oxygen to a cat and looked for a missing Chihuahua.
The hotel had fire alarms but it was unclear if it had any sprinklers, Scott said.
Arson investigators were sent to the scene because of the fire's size and how quickly it spread, he said. The cause of the blaze wasn't immediately known.