Authorities identify suspect in Everman apartment fire

01/03/2014 1:38 PM

01/03/2014 1:40 PM

Investigators have identified a suspect in an arson fire that displaced 75 apartment residents and injured two people Thursday.

Everman police are preparing an arrest warrant for a purported drifter who asked an apartment dweller whether he could sleep on her floor Thursday night, said Randy Sanders, Everman’s director of emergency services. The woman did not let the man inside.

“I guess he got mad at her and, right after that, the building caught on fire,” Sanders said. “We also have video from a surveillance camera that shows him running away from the scene of the fire.”

Investigators have recovered charcoal starter and a cigarette lighter that they believe were used to start the fire, Sanders said. Both are being processed for evidence, Sanders said.

The blaze was reported about 5:30 a.m. at Oakwood Terrace Apartments, 917 Coury Road. Sanders said that the first 911 call was at 5:35 a.m. and that the engine arrived nine minutes later.

Workers with the American Red Cross took 50 residents from the apartment complex to Highland Hills Community Center in Fort Worth for emergency shelter, Sanders said.

Problems with inadequate water supplies and low water pressure hampered volunteer firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blaze. The fire engine has a 700-gallon capacity but was only half-full, Sanders said.

The engine has indicator lights that show water levels, but those lights are not always reliable, Sanders said. Firefighters are instructed to confirm that the tank is filled.

“We are doing an investigation and, if someone is found to be at fault, it could result in a suspension, or they could lose their position,” he said. “What happened is unacceptable.”

The complex, which has six buildings with 24 apartment units in each, is the most densely populated structure in Everman, Sanders said.

The fire destroyed one building and all 24 units.

The fire taxed the system to the point that water pressure was also a problem, Sanders said. But because firefighters adopted a defensive stance and did not enter the building, the lack of pressure did not present a danger, he said.

The Everman Volunteer Fire Department includes 37 firefighters; 32 helped fight Thursday’s fire, Sanders said.

One man who jumped from a second-story apartment had to be hospitalized with knee injuries, Sanders said. Another man, who is bedridden, was taken to a hospital as a precaution, and another person was treated for minor burns.

Investigators had planned to send in an arson dog to see whether accelerant could be detected in the structure, Sanders said. But after tearing down a wall, they deemed the remaining walls too unstable, and those walls were also torn down, he said.

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