Four-alarm apartment fire leaves dozens homeless

May 9, 2011 3:16:16 PM PDT
More than 30 families have lost nearly everything after an early morning fire roared through a southwest Houston apartment complex Monday morning. The 4-alarm fire at the Woodchase Apartment complex on Gessner started with a car fire and quickly spread to four alarms. It took firefighters hours to knock it down.

Investigators say they are looking into the exact cause of the fire. They say it came from either one of two vehicles -- a Volkswagen or a Ford Expedition -- but it remains uncertain exactly what caused the fire.

"I didn't expect this," said Zena Gant.

Wiping away tears, Gant can't believe her apartment caught on fire less than 24 hours after she moved in.

"A car was in flames, and I tried to run back in the house to get my shoes, but when I looked at it was coming so fast, I couldn't believe it," Gant told us.

Gant and her grandsons were among 32 families displaced by a 4-alarm fire early Monday morning. Smoke and flames spread so fast that dozens of residents scrambled out in their pajamas and wondered if their apartments would be spared.

"The fire started around 3:08am, went to four alarms at 4am. Pretty heavy fire in several buildings. A lot of residents and a lot of units involved -- there were 20 units involved," said Pat Trahan of the Houston Fire Department.

Investigators say the fire started from a car parked at the complex. A neighbor's cell phone video captured the moments just as the flames began spreading to nearby buildings. Several residents also said they heard arguing and loud voices shortly before the car caught on fire.

"I walked back into my apartment, opened my patio door, and the security guard was here and other people were here and said, 'There's a fire,' and I looked toward my neighbor's and it started that way," said Adriana Johnson.

Arson investigators were already looking through the damage this afternoon.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross is helping the displaced families. Most will be relocated within the complex, but residents like Gant just didn't expect to lose everything.

"I saw big flames and then I hear 'pow pow pow.' And I grabbed the kids and ran out of the house," said Gant.

Arson investigators are checking recalls of certain vehicles to see if that played a role in the fire.

Earlier Monday morning

Massive flames lit up the early morning sky as a devastating fire destroyed an apartment complex in west Houston, leaving many with nothing but the clothes on their back.

What started as a car fire quickly grew to four alarms, spreading and destroying everything in its path. The good news is no one was seriously hurt.

It happened at the Woodchase Apartment complex on South Gessner and High Meadow. The fire left just a shell of the center of the complex.

"I had a lot of electronics and stuff, so it's a lot of money lost," said resident Merdedes Flores. "But oh well."

Flores is one of dozens of people who lost everything they owned to the early morning fire. Her apartment is gone. You can actually see through it from one side to the other.

Sheila Byron's home is also gone, and she hadn't even unpacked her moving boxes.

"Everything, everything because we just moved in yesterday," she said.

The fire broke out just after 3am, waking up residents who grabbed children and pets and ran out.

"All the neighbors were working together," said Flores. "Everybody was helping everybody."

"Only thing I heard was a loud boom," said Byron. "I heard my neighbor say, 'Get out! There's a fire. There's a fire.'"

Firefighters say it started at the center of the complex in a car and spread to several other cars, then to four buildings. The fire was so big and so fast-moving that it took 225 firefighters three hours just to get it under control. It destroyed 28 units and seriously damaged 12 others.

"I could feel, you could feel the heatness all the way over here," said Flores. "That's how hot it was."

Thirty-two families are receiving help from Red Cross volunteers while the apartment complex tries to relocate them to units that were not affected.

One firefighter did suffer a hand injury battling the blaze. At this time, the cause of the fire is not known.

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