Posted on March 4, 2013 at 6:22 PM
Monday, Mar 4 at 6:41 PM
AUSTIN -- Most of the seniors who were forced out of their South Austin apartments because of an early morning fire are able to return home Monday night.
The fire started around 2:15 a.m. in a third floor unit of the Western Trails Apartments on Western Trails Boulevard at Tejas Trail.
Firefighters credit smoke detectors for saving lives. They say the fire started when one of the residents turned on an electric heat blanket. She left the room and then heard the alarm going off. When she walked back over, she told firefighters she saw her bed on fire. She ran out to wake up neighbors. One of them called 911.
When firefighters arrived, they went to each of the 15 apartment units in the building to make sure everyone was out and safe. Some never heard the alarms.
“They had to break down her door and go get her because she didn't have her hearing aid on of course, and she had to take sleeping pills to sleep and so they told her you have to get out, the building's on fire,” said resident Bobbie Erb.
Residents stood by watching. Some, including Erb, waited in their car.
“I went a half a block down and watched the flames from there,” said Erb. “They licked out pretty far and then up through the roof.”
Firefighters knocked the flames out in about 20 minutes. The fire charred one apartment. Smoke and water damaged two more units. Firefighters had to break through the ceiling in another apartment to make sure flames weren't trapped in the attic. In all, the Austin Fire Department says the blaze caused $300,000 in structural damage and another $100,000 in content loss.
Management at the complex told KVUE that residents in eight of the 15 units are moving back in Monday night.
“As soon as we can get clearance from the city, the services have to be inspected by licensed electricians and plumbers and probably the city has to come out and do their own inspection before they let us turn the utilities back on," said Armando Valdez of the Western Trails Apartments.
While most are able to move back into their homes Monday night, as of 5 p.m., they still do not have gas. That means no hot water. They expect to have most people, except for three apartments, back home Tuesday.
Valdez says most of the displaced residents are staying with relatives until they can move back in. Those who don't have family nearby received hotel vouchers from the American Red Cross.
Valdez says smoke detectors are installed in every apartment at the complex. He says they're checked every month. There are also emergency call buttons in each unit, but there are no sprinklers because it is an older complex.