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Apartment dwellers describe fleeing from fire in middle of night (Video)

By BY SONNY LONG - SLONG@VICAD.COM
Jan. 21, 2013 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 21, 2013 at 7:22 p.m.

Burnt goods cover the kitchen table in apartment 2607 at Sage Creek Apartments. Residents of the damaged buildings were allowed back briefly Monday afternoon to salvage any small belongings before temporarily moving into Cameron Inn & Suites.

HOW TO HELP

To find out how to assist the victims of the Sage Creek Apartments fire, contact the apartment complex at 361-573-1666.

BY THE NUMBERS

The Victoria Fire Department responded to the Sage Creek Apartments fire with the following:

• 23 - Command and staff tactical personnel

• 3 - Fire engines

• 2 - Ladder trucks

• 2 - Medic units

Shirley Brown was so sure it was gunfire in her apartment complex that woke her up about 3:30 a.m. Monday that she called police.

Soon, the knocks on the door of her Sage Creek apartment revealed the reality of the situation.

"I heard what I thought were gunshots, so I got my grandson and niece and told them to stand in the hallway," Brown said. "I called the cops because I didn't know what was going on.

"The next thing I know, I hear sirens, and someone's banging on the door saying to get out, there's a fire."

With her 8-year-old niece and 9-year-old grandson by her side, Brown opened the door.

"All we could see was this huge fire. My grandson was terrified," Brown said.

Brown and the children were among dozens of residents of the apartment complex who were evacuated as firefighters responded to the blaze inside two of the buildings.

Brown said her mother, who also lived in the complex but not in the units affected by the fire, would take her in until she could either return to her apartment or find somewhere else to live.

Complex resident David Pierce grabbed his dog when the knock came on his door.

"I grabbed Ezy and got out," Pierce said, his pet now on a leash as he waited outside the apartment's leasing office. "I didn't really have time to be scared or anything."

Pierce said he was hoping he could bunk with friends until he could return to his apartment.

Assistance

Representatives of the Red Cross were on hand Monday morning assisting some residents with accommodations and other needs.

Linda May, of the Red Cross, said the agency helped 10 residents with client assistance cards to purchase food and clothing and referred five residents to the Salvation Army for their food and clothing needs.

"This is really a joint effort to assist those affected by the fire," May said. "The apartment complex and Mid-Coast Family Services are assisting some with motel rooms."

Ginny Stafford, Mid-Coast Family Services chief executive officer, said, "If needed, we will also help with housing search and placement."

A Sage Creek Apartments spokeswoman said the complex had about nine apartments available for displaced residents.

No injuries

No firefighters or residents were injured in the fire, Fire Chief Taner Drake said at the scene.

Firefighters responded to the fire about 3:40 a.m. at Sage Creek Apartments, 607 Fillmore Ave., a few blocks east of Navarro Street.

When firefighters arrived, three apartment units were fully engulfed in flames, Drake said. Eight of the units sustained significant water or fire damage.

In all, 25 apartments were affected either by fire, smoke or water damage. None of the residents are being allowed to return to their apartments to stay but were allowed to go back in and retrieve some personal items and clothing and will be allowed to do so again Tuesday, said apartment manager Lisa Escamilla.

Firefighters extinguished the flames in about 20 minutes. Firefighters remained at the scene most of the morning to make sure the fire did not re-ignite and to continue the investigation into the cause of the blaze.

As of late Monday afternoon, the cause of the fire continued to be under investigation, said Fire Marshal Tom Legler.

Outside watching

Sarah Walters, one of the residents standing outside in the mid-40-degree temperature, watched firefighters inspect the charred debris. She held her pet turtle and was wearing her pajamas.

"I just heard loud popping sounds from the fire, and someone was yelling for us to get out," she said.

Firefighters broke down the door of Hope Gomez, another resident, to get her out of one of the buildings. "They wouldn't even let me put my clothes on," she said.

She was also in her pajamas; others were outside barefoot.

Brian Lovings, whose downstairs apartment was not damaged by fire, saw the blaze above him.

"I heard what sounded like gunshots. I heard cops running around banging on doors, so I got out," he said. "My top neighbor's apartment, right above mine, was all on fire. It was pretty crazy, but thank God nobody got hurt."

Advocate staff members Esther Perez and Tony Balandran contributed to this article.

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