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'Angels pushed me out the door,' says Cuero fire victim

Sonny Long

By Sonny Long
Oct. 21, 2011 at 5:21 a.m.

Mary Nichols searches her burned out apartment for a photo of her granddaughter. Minutes later, Nichols found the framed photo intact.

Mary Nichols searches her burned out apartment for a photo of her granddaughter. Minutes later, Nichols found the framed photo intact.

Margaret Gossett had a headache Wednesday evening.

As she tried to relax hoping for relief, the smoke detector in her Cuero apartment began to blare.

"I checked around to see where it was coming from. I went through the kitchen and looked under a door and there was fire," she said Friday. "I about-faced and headed out even without my shoes."

She said she wasn't scared.

"Angels pushed me out the door and said, 'Don't look back.' I credit the Lord for saving my life," she said.

And Gossett, 54, may have saved her neighbor's.

She banged on the door of neighbor Arnold Villa, 53, who has a hearing disability.

"I didn't know what was going on. She said the apartment was on fire," he said. "I went back inside to check it out, and it was solid black with smoke, so I went back outside."

Other neighbors in the four-plex, Andrew May, Mary Nichols and Earl Polk, also escaped without injury, but lost most, if not all, their possessions, including clothing.

"We just stood outside and watched the flames leap out," said Nichols, 63, who shared the apartment with Polk.

Despite their losses Polk, 36, realized all the residents are fortunate, too.

"It's sad. I feel sorry for all of us to lose everything like that, but what if we didn't have anyplace to go?" he said.

They returned to their apartment Friday, where Nichols discovered some prized possessions under the rubble in the living room - a photograph of her granddaughter and a photograph of her late son in his Cuero Gobbler football uniform.

"It's a memory," she said, beaming after finding her son's photo.

The fire began about 7 p.m. Wednesday, said Cuero Fire Chief Butch Tolbert.

Firefighters had difficulty getting to the blaze in the attic of the four-plex of the Cuero Housing Authority complex.

"The guys worked their tails off, but it was aggravating, hard to get to," said the fire chief.

"We had to take the ceiling out of one apartment to get to it," Tolbert said. "The way it was burning it wasn't safe to put anyone up on the roof."

Two apartments suffered heavy smoke and water damage, one sustained moderate smoke and water damage and one had light smoke damage, Tolbert said.

Sixteen firefighters from Cuero were assisted by four from the Yoakum Fire Department and they fought the fire for four hours.

Tolbert said the cause of the fire is listed as undetermined but accidental.

"We have a pretty good idea of where it started. We know the point of origin was the utility room, but there were no appliances in there," he said.

Hope Ortiz, executive director of the Cuero Housing Authority, praised the firefighting efforts and also the cooperation of the City of Cuero and the Texas Gas Service following the fire.

"Luckily, we had apartments available that were ready to move into," Ortiz said. "The city and the gas company gave us immediate connections so we could house them that night."

Utility transfer fees were also waived, Ortiz said.

One displaced resident moved in temporarily with family, but those from the other three apartments moved to other units in a Housing Authority complex.

Ortiz said an insurance adjuster from the Texas Municipal League would be on site Monday to assess the damage and discuss rehabilitating the apartments.

Representatives from the Crossroads Chapter of the American Red Cross were on hand Friday to disburse vouchers for food and clothing.

"Give the management here a lot of credit for getting them into another apartment" said Linda May of the Red Cross. "We don't see that a lot."

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