Arson suspected in massive apt. fire

January 9, 2009 9:45:59 AM PST
A three-alarm fire broke out at a southwest Houston apartment complex early Friday morning and investigators say the fire appears to be suspicious.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

The fire broke out just before 5am at the Enchanted Fountain Apartments on Renwick at Bellaire. It's the same area where authorities are looking into more than 20 suspicious fires since May of last year.

"My dad his wife, and my uncle, they lost everything," said Betty Mejia, daughter of one of the fire victims.

The huge fire took most of two apartment buildings in the complex. It was a fire which had people jumping to safety from the top floor, like residents Juan Ramon and Maria Castro.

Mejia translated their story us.

"Their first reaction was to open the door because he lives in 39s and my uncle lives in the 40s. So he was trying to reach my uncle," said Mejia. "But once he opened the door, all of the smoke came in and they could not do anything else."

They were barely able to breathe and were forced to the window.

"They didn't have time to think. All they did is just jumped on the top of the garage," said Mejia.

Fire officials say the flames in the hallway and stairwells, which kept people from getting to safety, are a red flag. Someone may have started this fire on purpose, according to District Chief Tommy Dowdy with the Houston Fire Department.

"There are certainly normally not a lot of ignition sources out in those areas," he said. "It's not where there is cooking and electrical and things that you would normally have a fire start."

At least 15 units in two buildings were seriously damaged or destroyed, leaving residents to wonder if this was simply an accident or something sinister which took their life's belongings and nearly their lives.

The Red Cross is on the site assisting almost 20 families. An arson team is there as well, working on their investigation.

The most recent arson case was was on December 22 at a complex on Bissonnet and Mullins. Firefighters reportedly believe the same people may be responsible for all the fires, because the fires were set either late at night, or in the early morning.

Occupied and unoccupied apartments have been set on fire, as well as storage and laundry units and even cars in apartment parking lots.

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