City Manager Marc Maxwell can only watch as firefighters extinguish the flames at Spanish Trails apartments.
Staff Photo By Faith Huffman

Apartment complex fire leaves 40 families homeless

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

Sept. 14, 2008 - Two sections of Spanish Trails apartments burned early Saturday morning, and while no one was injured, 40 families were left without homes.

Sulphur Springs firefighters were dispatched at 2:45 a.m. Saturday to the East Industrial Drive apartment complex. The blaze was so intense and spreading so fast the crews had to call in all available firemen, including the two shifts not on duty.

SSFD also called for assistance from Brinker, Dike, Pickton-Pine Forest and North Hopkins Volunteer Fire Departments, and Hopkins County Fire Department. The county fire department normally would only have a dispatcher on duty at that hour but already had additional personnel working in readiness for the impact of Hurricane Ike later in the day.

City police helped evacuate apartment residents, and later people from Budget Inn and Comfort Suites when the fire spread. They remained nearby, directing traffic and coordinating with dispatchers and emergency personnel to find a place to house the residents.

Increasing winds hampered firefighters' efforts to extinguish the blaze. At least one time during the predawn hours, firemen had the blaze under control, but winds hitting hot spots or smoldering embers caused the flames to shoot back up.

Sulphur Springs Assistant Fire Chief Tim Vaughn said that while the blaze seems to be under control by 7 and mostly out, at least one crew would like remain at the location most of the day with hoses ready for rekindles. As many crews as possible were being released at 8:15 Saturday morning so the exhausted firemen could re-hydrate, shower and get their apparatus ready for response should they been needed later due to storms off the hurricane.

The fire reportedly started in the far eastern corner of the middle section at Spanish Trails. Due to a false roof, one in which a second layer with tarps and tar were constructed above the original roof, the fire spread quickly across the ceiling to the western portion of the connected building, attached to the far side of Budget Inn. The fire got so hot the tar burned and it dripped down into the apartment, destroying the upper floor, and damaging the bottom floor of those two sections at Spanish Trails, according to Vaughn.

Cumby Volunteer Fire Department sent a truck into the city to cover any calls that came in for SSFD. HCFD staffed its reserve engine, covering calls on the western portion of the city and county. Brinker VFD also took a medical call in the city while firefighters battled the blaze.

Hopkins County Emergency Medical Services personnel stood by at the scene all morning in case needed for any injuries or overheating by firemen.

The local division of American Red Cross and Hopkins County Salvation Army were called to help find places for residents and their pets to stay, as well as provide cool refreshments for firefighters. While the agencies generally work to place displaced fire victims at local motels or to help them find alternate living accommodations, they were unable to place the 40 families in hotels because all were full. The local hotels have been full with people seeking refuge from hurricanes, and in town for such things as the football game and Fall Festival, for 2 weeks, according to reports.

Eventually, the families were put on a bus provided by Sulphur Springs Independent School District and transported to the Church of the Nazarene, which the Red Cross had been readying as a possible shelter location for people evacuated from coastal cities due to Hurricane Ike. Since no hurricane victims had yet arrived, the families were put up at the Nazarene church temporarily. Some has since left to stay with family members. Others remained at the church. Their pets, at least 25 animals are being housed by two local veterinary clinics. The equine pavilion at Hopkins Count Regional Civic Center designated for any animal "overflow" and the shelter will continue to take any hurricane evacuees should any arrive, according to fire and police reports.

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