Apartment fire kills three

Published 11:31 pm Monday, November 19, 2007

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Three people died and 11 were hurt when fire ripped through an apartment complex so quickly that some residents jumped out of second- and third-floor windows to escape the flames, officials said Monday.

The fire at the Mirage Villa apartments took firefighters more than five hours to bring under control, said Howard Ward, spokesman for the city fire department. The fire was reported at 10:36 p.m. Sunday and was declared under control at 4:15 a.m. Monday, he said.

Fire flare-ups continued through midmorning, and thick, black smoke poured out of one of the buildings in the complex, which consists of a series of three-story brick and wood buildings. All fires were extinguished by the afternoon, and officials brought in cadaver dogs to look for residents who might not have escaped the blaze, said Robert Combs, with the fire department.

Email newsletter signup

‘‘They’re still trying to sift through the debris and make sure they have no additional fatalities,’’ Combs said.

Firefighters stayed at the apartment complex in case the removal of the debris caused new fires, he said.

Tim and Monique Sanders, who lived in a third floor apartment near where the fire broke out, said the blaze tore through their building quickly.

‘‘I looked up and saw flames, and I had thought it was police lights flashing,’’ said Monique Sanders. ‘‘But then, I looked up again, and the fire was on the back patio. It spread that fast.’’

The Sanders and their 5-year-old son walked out of their apartment, but they said they watched others leap out of windows because doors were blocked by flames and residents were trying to get to safety.

Sitting on a cot at a shelter at the nearby high school, Tim Sanders described running throughout the second floor of the building, knocking on doors to notify people about the fire — and watching others trying to escape it.

‘‘One man ran out of the building with no clothes on. His body was burnt. He was burned bad. He wanted my help, but I couldn’t do anything,’’ Tim Sanders said. ‘‘His wife jumped from the third (floor) out the window. I don’t see how she made it, but she was walking.’’

Among the injured, one person suffered serious burns and others had broken bones and sprains after jumping out of windows to escape the blaze, Ward said.

The cause of the fire was not known. Fire investigators inspected the scene and interviewed residents. Combs said two women and one man died, but the names of the dead were not immediately available.

Fifty-four apartments were affected by the fire, which displaced between 150 and 200 residents, Ward said. About 50 people registered by Monday afternoon to stay at the American Red Cross shelter set up at the high school.

Mirage Villa residents were allowed to return to collect their personal belongings before nightfall, but Combs said the apartment complex was then blocked off, with electricity and gas service disconnected.

At the building where the fire began, the top floor was badly charred, and the fire had burned the roof away. Bricks from where the wall had collapsed littered the ground nearby, and a child’s toy floated in the water that put out the blaze. The parking lot near the second burned building was coated in ash.

As firefighters worked to extinguish the final flames, residents lined the street, some huddled in blankets, waiting for news of how their apartments fared.

When the blaze began, the fire had shut down the main highway running from downtown Baton Rouge to the neighboring parish, Ward said. The apartment complex is located on the service road immediately off the highway. The road was reopened by Monday morning.