An early morning fire ripped through a string of units at the Stoneridge Apartments Friday, sending two people to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries after they leapt from a second story window to escape the blaze.
The Kilgore Fire Marshal reports an ashtray is to blame: a combination of cinders and wind sparking a fire that damaged 24 apartment units and sent residents scrambling for safety.
Emergency responders were dispatched to the scene at 5:39 a.m. and set to fighting the flames, ultimately containing the fire to one building.
Numerous residents from the structure at 1000 S. Danville Road were displaced, and Forest Home Baptist Church opened its doors to take in the refugees as representatives from the American Red Cross tended to their needs.
In addition to Kilgore Fire Department personnel and Kilgore Rescue Unit volunteers, the Longview Fire Department dispatched a ladder truck and a second fire engine to assist at the scene.
According to KFD Operations Chief Mark Henderson, from preliminary indications the flames appeared to have spread from the middle, upper floor of the two-story apartment building.
“The biggest fire damage was to the center of the complex,” Henderson noted, grateful no one was seriously injured or killed in the fire and that it was held to a single structure: “Just the one building – we made the stop there. It could have been a lot worse.”
About a score of people were moved to Forest Home Baptist Church, where volunteers helped the Red Cross in providing initial assistance – blankets, clothing, shelter, other essentials and hot showers.
“They’re getting them out of the cold,” Henderson said, “getting them a bite to eat.”
Following his investigation Friday, Kilgore Fire Marshal Brandon Bigos anticipates no criminal charges in the accidental fire.
According to Bigos, residents were smoking on their balcony, disposed of the butts in a plastic flower pot then went to bed believing the cigarettes had been put out.
“The wind probably swirled around in that pot and caught the cigarettes on fire, caught the little plastic pot on fire, which the wind helped spread,” he reported. It went up into the awning of the balcony and went into the roof then spread across the roof.”
The resident was distraught to learn the cause of the fire, Bigos added.
“The lesson from this is always put your cigarette butts in water or in sand. Keep it cleaned out,” he said. “Don’t dispose of your ashes – whether it’s cigarette or barbecue ashes – in a plastic container. Make sure it’s metal and that you can put a lid on top of it.”
Also, Bigos noted, every resident should invest in a fire extinguisher.
“It’s very vital,” a simple purchase that can save a life or prevent an injury. A fire ladder is advisable as well for upper-story dwellings and might have prevent Friday’s injuries: “They’re relatively cheap. You can deploy that out your window and climb down.
“Hopefully, people will take notice.”