An early morning fire at the Oakwood Village Apartments in Orange caused damage to at least 12 apartment units, prompting a response by the American Red Cross.
Sunday morning, July 20, around 2:15 a.m. a fire broke out in a ground-level apartment at 521 N. 37th St., said Kathy Womack, property manager of Oakwood Village Apartments in Orange.
“One of our downstairs units woke up to smoke in their apartment and flames,” Womack said. “It spread to the apartment upstairs and up through the roof and the chimney. We have several other units that have some water and (fire) damage to those as well. We’ve had to shut off all the electricity and everything to that one building.”
Tenant Burnace Holliday Jr., 42, said he was sleeping when he was awakened by someone running up the stairs.
“They started beating on the door,” Holliday said. “I jumped up and put on a pair of PJ pants. They said, ‘There is a fire downstairs; get out!’ I put on a shirt, grabbed my pet, wallet and keys. As I was coming out, the smoke alarm started going off. Smoke was starting to come into my apartment. By the time I got (downstairs), there was a fire truck here.”
Orange Fire Captain Randy Ener said firefighters arrived on the scene at 2:28 a.m.
“They had the fire under control at 4 a.m.,” Ener said. “There were 12 units in that structure. Fire heavily damaged two, minor damage in another. They had water damage in a fourth, maybe a fifth and sixth (unit). Some of them had really light smoke (damage).”
Holliday said, because his apartment was damaged so severely, his insurance company arranged for him to stay in a hotel until he could find somewhere else to live.
Other affected residents have been moved to different apartments and some have been moved to local hotels, Womack said.
“Between us and Red Cross, we have put them up in apartments or a hotel,” she said. “We have two residents whose apartments are a total loss. They lost everything.”
Cameron Ballantyne, executive director of the Beaumont and Orange County Chapters of the American Red Cross, said he received a call from Orange Fire Department about the fire and dispatched a unit to the scene around 5:30 a.m.
“Those that (the complex) was not able to relocate, we put them up in a hotel for a few nights, so they can get their affairs in order and start their road to recovery,” Ballantyne said. “The folks that were relocated in other apartments just needed replacement of bedding, so we gave them the means. … We want to make sure people are as comfortable as they can be given that they just had a personal tragedy.”
Regarding the two residents that lost everything, Ballantyne said the Red Cross would continue to work with them and try to get them the assistance they need.
“We’ll determine what the Red Cross assistance can be, but it also may be referrals to other agencies that may be able to help them,” he said, “or if they have insurance, to kind of be a liaison to their insurance agency to make sure they are getting what they need. We’re here to help the community. We are part of the community.”
Although the Red Cross is known for its response to major disasters such as tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes, Ballantyne said residential house fires are just as significant.
“Our most prevalent disaster response for our volunteers is the residential home fire. The Red Cross responds to more residential home fires in any given week than we do those larger natural disasters,” he said.
No one was injured in the fire, Womack said.
Just as the Orange Fire Department was getting the Oakwood Village Apartments fire under control, a second fire broke out across town in the 1400 block of West Sholars Avenue, Ener said.
Firefighters were dispatched around 4 a.m. to the fire, where they found flames visible through one window of the house, he said.
“That was basically the time they were calling the other fire under control,” Ener said. “They already had some (firefighters) they had sent back to the station to reload some equipment when (the news) of this fire came in.”
Ener said the resident told firefighters that his smoke detector had alerted him and his mother of the fire, and they were able to escape unharmed.
“This is very uncommon for a city the size of Orange,” Ener said, regarding two fires breaking out successively. “It does occasionally happen.”
Both fires remain under investigation.