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Woman, 66, dies in apartment fire; cause under investigation

By JJ VELASQUEZ
May 27, 2010 at 12:27 a.m.

A charred bed frame, along with other remnants, sits outside the burned apartment at Stratford Place Apartments on East Airline Road. A fire broke out at 3 a.m. on Thursday, killing one person and displacing 18 other residents.

HOW TO HELP

To assist the Carroll family or any displaced residents, call the American Red Cross Crossroads chapter at 361-573-2671.

A Victoria woman died Thursday in a fire that blazed for 45 minutes at an east Victoria apartment complex, displacing 18 residents.

Wanda Carroll, 66, was the only fatality in the early morning fire at Stratford Place, 3207 E. Airline Road.

Residents say the woman breathed through an oxygen tank and had limited mobility, but fire investigator Adam Luther said that did not factor into her death.

"I don't believe that her illness or condition limited her in getting out of the apartment," Luther said. "I don't think that her oxygen or mobility played any role."

The woman lived alone in Apartment 1007, said apartment manager Erin Williams.

Justice of the Peace Stuart Posey ordered an autopsy be done to confirm the woman's identity.

No other injuries were sustained, a Victoria Fire Department spokeswoman said.

The Victoria Fire Department responded to the fire call at 3:06 a.m. and upon arrival found an apartment fully involved in flames, said Battalion Chief Roger Hempel.

The first crews battled heavy fire and smoke and had the fire knocked down enough within about 10 minutes to enter the apartment, where they discovered the woman's body.

The last units left at 9 a.m., after cleaning out charred bedroom furniture.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, Luther said.

Residents in 18 apartments were evacuated from the building that houses tenants in apartments 1001-1020.

Brien Phillips, 17, lives with his mother and two siblings in an apartment a few buildings down from the fire. The sound of screams was his wake-up call, he said.

"I woke up to people screaming and heard banging on the doors," he said. "So I woke up, looked outside, and there were sirens."

He immediately began passing out water and getting chairs for people who were displaced from their apartments, he said.

Alma Escalante, who lives directly above Carroll, escaped the flames, along with her sister and three pets.

"I just barely got out of my apartment," she said. "My sister is the one that woke up and saw the smoke. She went out to the window and saw the flames. She woke us up to get our animals out. And we got out on time."

Escalante said the smoke detector in her apartment did not go off because she removed the batteries from it. They often remove the batteries because the smoke detector tends to go off while she is cooking, she said.

Investigators never found a smoke detector in Carroll's apartment, Luther said.

"She may have taken hers out," he said.

Williams, the complex manager, said management staff is praying for the family.

"We're really upset over the loss of one of our neighbors and one of our residents," she said.

By noon Thursday, residents were allowed back into their apartments.

However, one apartment remains uninhabitable. That tenant is being transferred to another apartment in the complex, Williams said.

The management company is footing the bill for a short-term motel stay for residents whose apartments sustained water and smoke damage or had a strong smoke aroma.

The local American Red Cross assisted with relocating the residents to Victoria motels.

Linda May, emergency services director, said nine adults and two children were transported via the city bus.

Escalante said she would see Carroll in passing at the complex but didn't know too much about her.

"She was a nice lady," she said. "When I did talk to her, she was really friendly."

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