Charges filed in 4-alarm fire at northwest Houston apartments

By Brandon Walker - Reporter, Cathy Hernandez - Reporter, Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Arson investigators have arrested a man for allegedly causing a massive fire that injured three firefighters and left dozens homeless Tuesday in northwest Houston.

Officials Wednesday charged Danny Isidoro, 18, with reckless arson for allegedly sparking a fire that grew to four alarms and gutted four buildings at the Gentry House apartments in the 9000 block of Kempwood Drive.

According to court documents, Isidoro ignited a lighter in his bedroom, intending to set the apartments on fire.

Rhonda Hayes stopped by the complex to see the damage. Her apartment is among the 70 or so fire officials consider a total loss.

"Flames were rolling and the wind was blowing it in this direction," Hayes said.

Tommy Santana, 11, split his lip because the smoke blinded his view as he and his brother tried to get out.

"A lot of people started banging on their door and everybody was saying, 'Get out. Get out there's a fire,'" he said.

Santana said he is thankful he and his family escaped alive, despite losing just about everything.

He said they spent the night at his grandmother's residence.

"There's no words,' said resident Claudia Guzman. "Why would someone do that?"

The Red Cross set up a shelter at nearby Edgewood Elementary School at 8757 Kempwood Drive.

Officials said 35 residents stayed there Tuesday night and were served dinner, then breakfast Wednesday morning. An official tally of the number of those displaced was still being gathered.

Firefighters responded to the blaze around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. There was little time for residents  to react as flames washed over four buildings within minutes.

"They were knocking on my door, just to get out," resident Christopher Luna said. "Everything was burning."

"It was like a big boom," Kimberly Hernandez said.

Hernandez cracked her phone's screen running away from the fire, but managed to record the flames devouring her unit. She said she didn't know there was a fire until someone banged on her door.

"She came and warned us and I went outside, running," Hernandez said.

Jacque Marquez, 16, had the same close call. She was relaxing in her parents' bedroom when her little brother rushed in, yelling for her to run. When she opened the door, she was greeted by a wall of black smoke.

"Everything was black, so I couldn't see," Marquez said. "So I just got out from there.

Some residents had time to gather some items before running across the street to watch in disbelief as the fire consumed their apartments. Most residents lost everything.

The fire started in the back of the complex and was roaring by the time firefighters arrived.

Houston Fire Chief Terry Garrison said strong winds spread the flames quickly.

The conduit was a common attic space in the buildings.

"The wind got up in those attics, moved it from apartment building to apartment building," Garrison said.

Firefighters were able to stop the flames from spreading to a fifth building. More than 70 units were destroyed or heavily damaged, but none of the residents were hurt.

"I feel sad and lucky at the same time," Marquez said. "Lucky because I was inside and I don't know what could have happened to me, and sad because our apartment is all burned."

Firefighters suffer minor injuries

Three firefighters were injured, including two who suffered from heat exhaustion.

"Fighting fires are already difficult enough with the gear and the heat of the fire," said Capt. Ruy Lozano.

But when you add a 100-degree day like Tuesday, it can get dangerous.

"That gear absorbs a lot of heat when they're inside.These guys come out, you touch that gear, it's pretty hot, then it's hard to cool off just by walking outside," Lozano said.

It's the main reason the fire department called for additional resources at the apartment complex. One hundred and twenty firefighters took turns every 15 minutes battling the flames.

"On days like this, once they go through an air bottle, get them out, get them rehabbed and get another crew in there," he said.

It allows firefighters to take a break and get water from their rehab units.

"They're losing fluids at a higher rate, so basically the best thing to do is keep them hydrated and keep them rotated," Lozano said.

The three injured firefighters are expected to be OK.

The Red Cross will be assisting residents displaced by the fire.

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