Neighbors, firefighters couldn't reach man in time in burning apartment

One person is dead and others injured after a fire sent people scrambling for a way to escape a burning building in downtown Galveston
October 11, 2013 4:28:02 PM PDT
One person is dead and others injured after a fire sent people scrambling for a way to escape a burning building in downtown Galveston.

The two-alarm fire trapped people and their pets, as firefighters worked to get them all to safety. The five-story building dating back to 1904 only had one entrance and exit, making it very difficult for people to get out, and for crews to get to the flames. One person was killed.

The smooth exterior of the building on 21st Street in Galveston doesn't hint to the damage inside after the early morning fire which destroyed an apartment and killed a man. The building houses a corner store on the bottom floor and four floors of apartments above. The fire was contained to a third floor unit where an older tenant lived, well-known to his neighbors.

Just before 5am, the residents woke, many of them to the smell and sight of smoke. Resident Shane Lassiter was going door to door, and could see his friend was in trouble.

He said, "I saw the smoke coming of his door. That's where the fire started. So I kicked it in, out came all the smoke. I couldn't get in, there was no way. So I grabbed a towel, and I still couldn't get in. There was still no way to get in there."

"He tried to go in. He went in several times, he couldn't get him out," said resident Anne Moore Urroz. "Couldn't get close to him."

Surveillance video shows Galveston firefighters and going in and out of the building through its one entrance, but some residents had to make their way down a fire escape -- the smoke too thick for safe exit by stairwell.

"My father is 73 years old," said Caroline Gaspard, the daughter of a resident. "He couldn't walk down the stairs either. They tried to push him out on the fire escape and they finally got him out."

Their thoughts are with the one friend who didn't make it out, taken to the hospital with CPR in progress, and never revived.

"A good guy, I saw him almost every single day I lived that here, for three years," Lassiter said.

Residents say the man who died wasn't in good health, and used oxygen. Although friends and neighbors have identified the man to Eyewitness News, the Galveston County Medical Examiner's Office has not officially released his name because they believe he has a distant relative they are working to locate.

Residents won't be able to get back inside the building for days. The Red Cross provided vouchers for temporary housing until the building can be cleaned and reopened, perhaps by next week. And everyone plans to return to what they left behind.

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