Husband dead, wife critical after house fire

A fatal fire struck this home in northeast Houston

April 22, 2011 7:06:40 PM PDT
A fire caused not one but two tragedies for a Houston couple. It was a tragic ending to what had been a dramatic rescue as a man pulled from his burning home has died of his injuries.

Firefighters had to battle both the flames and burglar bars to get to the man and his wife out, while the fire burned Friday morning in their northeast Houston home on Love near Conroy around 1am.

Althea Renfro is in critical condition at Memorial Hermann Hospital. Her husband Porter Renfro died in the fire.

"Agent 19 found one victim about 15 feet into the living room. They brought her out and another company went in and found another victim back in the back bedroom and brought him out," said Captain Billy Martin with the Houston Fire Department. "Both of those victims were transported."

A lot of neighbors were out trying to help the couple, who has deep roots in the community. We're told the couple is very involved in their nearby church and that their daughter is the executive director for Houston Habitat for Humanity. Right now, for everybody that knows the couple, this is going to be a very difficult Easter weekend.

One look at the house speaks volumes about the tragedy which happened here. Longtime neighbors described the chaos early this morning as they realized a fire was eating up the home, an elderly couple trapped inside.

"Everybody started calling 911, neighbors started coming out of houses; they kept trying to break windows, trying to get in and then I just saw all the smoke come out of the house all at once," said neighbor Ashley Sloan.

"My dad was trying to spray the house with the water hose, but it wasn't working," said neighbor Jelena Broussard.

"I just saw flames coming from the garage and it was just going bigger, and bigger. Then I heard my momma trying to call 'Mr. Renfro, Mrs. Renfro,' but you couldn't hear nothing, that's when the firefighters came," said neighbor Brittany Robinson.

Those Houston firefighters struggled with burglar bars and finally got in through the back of the house where they found Althea Renfro just inside, suffering from smoke inhalation. It would take more, precious time, to find her husband, Porter Renfro. He would leave for the hospital with CPR in progress, but didn't make it.

It's a big loss for neighbors -- the loved ones who have considered them family.

"She taught us piano. She would sit around and talk to us," said Sloan. "Mr. Porter, he was hard working, he was up in age, but he still worked."

"She was a retired teacher, so she always went around trying to help everyone, help them anyway that she could," said family friend Angela Allen. "She was active in the community and her church. She was very well loved."

Neighbors told us that they saw a lot of fire coming from the garage area and a pickup truck in the driveway as they tried to fight the fire. Investigators aren't ruling out anything -- including the possibility that the ford truck parked may have somehow played a role; they're checking to see whether it may have been part of a recall.

The investigation is ongoing and arson investigators have not yet determined the cause of the blaze.

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