Apartment fire puts families on street in east Harris Co.

January 14, 2011 3:27:33 PM PST
Dozens of families have to find a new place to sleep after a massive fire roared through a Channelview apartment building Friday morning. Smoke from the fire at the Reserve at Channelview Gardens complex on Sheldon near Woodforest Drive could be seen for miles. No one was injured, and everyone got out OK.

The complex has one common attic so firefighters had to act quickly to save the rest of the building along with everyone in it.

Just after 8am Friday morning, smoke and flames shot out of the roof of the apartment complex. An aerial view from SkyEye HD captured the fire growing by the minute.

"Nothing but fire and smoke. I got my 16-month-old baby, so we had to hurry up and get everything out and get going," said resident Rosie Ramirez.

As the fire expanded, so did the manpower required to put it out. More than 80 area firefighters responded as fire departments from Sheldon, Pasadena, Baytown and Houston were all on the scene to try to put out the flames. Their biggest challenge was blocking the fire from entirely chewing up the brittle 1970s wood structure. The apartments share a common attic so firefighters had to cut trenches in the roof to stop its spread.

"We had to have our guys go inside, cut everything down to be able to gain access," said Chief Jason Riker of the Channelview Fire Department.

Neighbors hollered and knocked on doors to get everyone to safety.

"I just knocked on everybody's door and grabbed my niece and said, 'Wake up. We've got to go right now. There's fire,'" said Michael Behnkie, who helped to rescue some neighbors.

As firefighters combed the apartments for anyone left behind and in the process, they discovered a small puppy hiding underneath a bed.

"She's coughing a lot, has a little water in her nose," said one firefighter.

The puppy's owner, Chrystian Espinoza, rushed home from class at Channelview High School when a friend told him about the fire. His chow-mix, named "Kirochi" is less than one month old. He just got her yesterday.

"She's an abandoned puppy. My aunt gave it to me," said Espinoza.

For many, this is not their first rodeo. Some of them lived through an apartment fire in a nearby complex four years ago.

"Same as today; it was like almost a routine for everybody. Everyone came to the front, grabbed what they could and just got right out," said Behnkie.

Many are now sheltering at a nearby church while they wait for apartment management to come up with a suitable plan about where to go next.

"We've pulled all the files of all the residents who are active there and will offer them options in regards to relocating within the community. There are sister communities that will also be able to house them," said Ludy Urvina with apartment management.

The fire marshal's office is still investigating. For now they say it appears the fire is accidental and started because of a malfunctioning rooftop heater.

Folks who were displaced are sheltering at nearby St. Andrew's Church.

The Red Cross and Project Lift organizers are asking anyone who can donate a blanket to bring them here to the apartment complex.