Fire leaves eight families homeless
Men at local business who alerted residents credited with saving lives

Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Sept. 21, 2004 -- Two men at a local business were credited Tuesday morning with saving the lives of all of the residents, many who were asleep, inside The Colony Apartments on Texas Street when the structure caught fire around 9 a.m.

The apartment complex, which housed eight families including the apartment manager, was destroyed. Firefighters were still working at lunch time to put out hot spots left from the blaze, which spread from the bottom story upward into the attic across the entire building.

No one was believed to be injured in the blaze, thanks to the quick work of the men from Hughes Marine.

Tony Hughes and Dan Petty, who work at the shop located on the other side of the fence behind the Texas Street apartments, said they were just arriving at work in their trucks around 9 a.m. Tuesday when they saw smoke coming out of an apartment. They called the fire in to authorities and went to the complex to begin evacuating the residents.

As they approached, they saw flames coming out of one apartment door, and began knocking on the doors around the blazing apartment to notify the people of the fire and make sure they fled the structure. Much to their relief, the two men soon learned that the resident of the apartment was not at home when the blaze broke out. She did arrive soon after, however.

"They just knocked on doors and got people out. I was asleep and didn't hear when they first knocked on my door. I heard them outside yelling, asking if anyone was inside. It woke me up and I got out. Mr. Hughes, he saved my life. I owe him everything," one resident said shortly after being evacuated from the property.

Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County fire fighters arrived quickly to begin both an interior and exterior attack on the fire. However, it became almost immediately apparent that more personnel would be needed to battle the blaze.

Sulphur Springs called in off-duty firemen from its two other shifts, and a call was put out to all available firefighters and volunteer firemen in town for assistance. At least five men arrived in bunker gear to work shoulder to shoulder with the on-duty firemen. Around 10 a.m., Brinker Volunteer Fire Department also responded with a truck and firemen to assist.

The fire quickly spread through the apartments to the second floor and into the attic. Firemen worked until nearly noon to extinguish the blaze, which spread to the attic. Firefighters were hampered by a metal roof, which was very difficult to penetrate in order to ventilate the attic and extinguish the fire. They were finally able to puncture the upper north end of the structure to begin attacking the structure that way.

The majority of the blaze had been knocked out shortly after noon, when firefighters went in to check for hot spots. They were expected to remain at the apartment complex monitoring the structure in an effort to prevent it from rekindling through the afternoon, possibly into the evening.

Hopkins County Emergency Medical Services assisted in making sure the firemen were kept hydrated and did not get too overheated while working. Two representatives from Hopkins County Salvation Army also assisted with ice and Gatorade, as did some nearby residents. Sulphur Springs Police Department secured the area, blocking off the road near the fire to all except fire and emergency personnel, while Hopkins County Sheriff's Office assisted in covering their calls.

The Red Cross arrived at the location around 11 a.m. to begin working with the eight families to make sure all of their immediate needs, such as shelter, clothing and food would be met. A medical helicopter was also on standby as a precaution.

The apartment manager said several of the apartments had recently undergone renovations and upgrades. Neighbors in the apartment complex behind the charred structure said that they knew most of the families and would likely be try to temporarily assist them as needed.

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