Firefighters Battle a Two-Alarm Texas Apartment Fire

Dressed only in red shorts and a red T-shirt, Hilda Arevalo stood shivering and crying Monday morning in the fierce wind, watching smoke billow from the direction of her apartment.

Less than an hour before, Arevalo had been lying next to her 4-year-old daughter, Angelica, in their living room when the woman noticed smoke drifting from her television and then a back bedroom.

There was no time to look for the phone to call 911. No time to grab Christmas presents. No time to put on warm clothes.

"We came out barefooted," Arevalo said. She pointed to the black flip-flops she was wearing. "These sandals are my sister-in-law's. She let me use them.

"We didn't go back to get anything," she said. "By the time I opened the door, it was already following us. The smoke was coming at us from the back."

The fire at the Serrano Apartments in the 8300 block of Calmont Avenue displaced 11 adults and two children. Fire officials believe it started in the bedroom of Arevalo's apartment about 9 a.m.

After the fire broke out of a south-facing bedroom window, strong winds whipped the flames under the eave, ligniting the building's attic and roof, said Lt. Kent Worley, a Fire Department spokesman.

Before firefighters could bring the two-alarm blaze under control, it had heavily damaged four upstairs apartments and burned the roof off the two units adjoining Arevalo's, Worley said.

Two other units had moderate damage and another two had minor damage, he said.

The cause of the fire was under investigation Monday, although it appeared to be accidental, Worley said.

Police were called to the scene after firefighters, going door to door to make sure everyone had evacuated, kicked in one apartment door to find an 8-year-old girl home alone, Worley said.

The Red Cross was assisting the displaced families Monday morning while the complex's management worked to get the families relocated into vacant apartments.

The assistance was greatly needed by Arevalo, who said her family had no renters insurance.

"We had bought, like, $200 worth of food last night," Arevalo said. "We barely even have clothes."

Arevalo's daughter escaped the fire wearing only a T-shirt and pants. A relative provided the girl with a sweater, but the girl's feet remained bare Monday morning as her uncle held her nearby.

Also ill-prepared for the cold wind was LaToya Walker, who sat on the steps in slippers and an oversize black leather jacket. She looked at the roofless apartment that her boyfriend, Dalon Hill, had just moved into two days before.

Walker said she awoke Monday to the sight of flames coming through a back wall. About the same time, she said, a maintenance man flung open the front door, screaming for everyone to get out.

"I grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around myself," Walker said. "I didn't have nothing on."

Javan Terral, who was visiting Hill, said he was on the telephone in the back room when he heard a window break.

"I heard a loud bang like a door closing," Terral said. "Once that happened, you could smell the smoke from inside."

Walker said Christmas gifts for her three children, ages 2, 9 and 11, were stored in her boyfriend's apartment to hide them from inquisitive eyes.

"I'm thinking, 'What am I going to tell those kids about their presents?' " Walker said.