A four-alarm fire ripped through several buildings at a southwest Houston apartment complex early Monday.
Houston firefighters battled flames at the Woodchase apartments on Gessner Road at Highmeadow Drive about 3 a.m.
Investigators said the fire started in a car parked underneath a carport, then the flames spread to other vehicles and then to the apartments.
"At first, I saw the car smoking," said Elon Ugochukw, a security guard at the complex. "After the car caught fire, I started banging on doors telling people to get out."
Residents said they heard a loud explosion and then saw the flames.
"I kept hearing loud pops and noise," witness Derek Hayes said. "It sounded like an explosion. I woke up and I come out and look. (The fire) started back in the rear part of the apartment and spread pretty fast."
Twenty-eight units were destroyed, five sustained major damage and one sustained minor damage, investigators said. About 50 units filled with smoke, which prevented residents from going inside them for a while.
"High winds and the close proximity of these units is what caused the fire to spread so quickly," Houston Fire Department spokesman Pat Trahan said.
The American Red Cross said is helping victims with food, medication and other necessities. Apartment complex officials said they had enough empty units to relocate those who lost their homes.
"A lot of these people are crying because they don't have anything," witness Bernadette Green said. "Once you're in a fire, you lose everything."
"I give thanks to God that my kids are safe," said Martha Orellana, a pregnant mother of three. "I can get that stuff back."
Jackson Chan said the fire could not have come at a worse time for him.
"I got laid off from work a week ago, and today I was supposed to get a new job," he said. "Supposed to start today. Lost my car, too."
One firefighter suffered a minor hand injury. No other injuries were reported.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
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