The official yellow Fort Worth code enforcement sign posted on the door frame of a burned-out Hemphill Street apartment building Friday was blunt:
“Warning. Do not occupy.”
That leaves the tenants of 10 destroyed or heavily damaged units in the 1920s-era building in limbo.
“It’s bad,” said Tiffany Newman, who lived above the apartment where the fire started Thursday.
Newman lost furniture, food, clothes and her work uniform in the fire. She can’t enter her burned-out apartment to see whether anything can be salvaged.
On Thursday night, she stayed with a neighbor at another building in the Elizabeth Place complex but expected to have to leave soon. She hoped to find a place that would welcome her and her pit bull, Rocco.
Tenants in the community were already struggling to make ends meet. They live paycheck to paycheck, Newman said, and the fire puts more uncertainty in their lives.
“I can’t go to work if I don’t know what’s going on here,” Newman said.
A 911 call about the fire in the complex at 2008 Hemphill St. came in at 5:16 p.m. Firefighters controlled the one-alarm blaze within 30 minutes, fire officials said.
Smoke detectors were operating and alerted occupants, giving them time to escape, Fire Department spokesman Tim Hardeman said.
The cause of the fire was still undetermined Friday.
Only minor injuries were reported, including two children who were taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center for treatment of smoke inhalation.
Fire calls are rising
Red Cross volunteers helped tenants displaced by the fire find temporary lodging. They also received items such as clothes, blankets, combs and toothbrushes, spokeswoman Anita Foster said.
This time of year, when cold snaps send temperatures plummeting, the Red Cross often responds to at least two fires a day, she said. Fires begin as people try to stay warm. Also, holiday decorations of candles and lights can start fires.
Stephen Chacko, owner of Elizabeth Place, said he is working with insurance adjusters to assess the damage and see how to repair the apartments.
The complex on the edge of the Fairmount neighborhood and just south of the Medical District has four buildings. Building A caught fire and all the tenants in that section were displaced, Chacko said. The other buildings weren’t damaged.
Chacko said his tenants don’t have renters insurance.
Prepare for a safe winter
Fire officials and American Red Cross workers urge people to take simple precautions to prevent house fires.
“Make sure you give your heaters space,” Foster said, adding that a rule of thumb is to leave a 2-foot buffer around a space heater.
“You want to make sure that nothing can find its way into your space heater,” she said.
A malfunctioning heater may have sparked a one-alarm house fire Wednesday night that destroyed a house in Mira Vista in southwest Fort Worth.
Chimneys need to be inspected by a professional before they are used.
This week’s cold snap didn’t give people time to prepare for winter weather, Foster said.
“We didn’t have a lot of fall,” she said.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
STAYING WARM AND SAFE
Avoid potential fire hazards by following these tips from CSA, a leader in public safety, testing and certification.
• Have a qualified heating contractor perform a yearly check.
• Clean or replace the filter often during heating season.
• Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids near a gas furnace.
• Don’t store paper, chemicals, paint, rags or cleaning products nearby.
• Don’t use a gas fireplace if the glass panel is removed, cracked or broken. Have qualified service people replace glass panels and frame assemblies.
• Make sure the cord is not damaged. If it is, replace the entire unit or have a qualified professional replace the cord.
• Keep the heater clean by dusting or vacuuming it regularly. Always turn the unit off first.
• Keep the heater clear of furniture, rugs and drapes.
• Turn the heater down or off before going to sleep. Keep it out of pathways and away from bedding and clothes. Turn it off before you leave the house.
• Install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
• Find more tips at www.csagroup.org