Three Dallas Fire-Rescue firefighters trapped in a burning condo while battling a massive fire Tuesday morning were treated for minor injuries after being rescued by an intervention team, fire officials say.
The firefighters were among more than 100 called to battle a large four-alarm fire at about 9:30 a.m. at a three-story building in the Cambridge Park Condominiums, in the 11400 block of Audelia Road, in Dallas' Lake Highlands neighborhood.
Resident Flora Newman was home when the fire broke out.
"People just kept knocking at our door for us to get out. It started with the next door neighbors house and everything just went up in smoke," Newman said. "I lost everything, everything."
DFR's Jason Evans said firefighters arrived at the building and immediately reported flames coming from a first-floor balcony. They attacked the fire with hoses, but the flames spread to other parts of the building so third and fourth alarms were called.
"Right now the feeling is that the fire may have spread from balcony to balcony, made it inside the units, and then spread through out the entire building," Evans said.
At some point during the fire, a mayday call was received from three firefighters trapped in the burning building.
"They were inside of a second floor unit possibly conducting a search of some kind, when the upper floor collapsed in the unit with them," Evans said.
DFR's Rapid Intervention Team was already on the scene. It quickly rescued all three trapped firefighters. They were transported to the hospital, along with one resident who was exposed to excessive smoke. Evans said all four people had only minor injuries.
Flames, meanwhile, continued to consume the collapsing building. Video from Texas Sky Ranger showed thick, black smoke billowing from multiple units of the complex as charred walls crumbled and left behind only a partial shell of the original building.
Officials have not been able to yet determine a cause for the fire and said the point of origin was completely destroyed in the fire.
"There's a good chance this fire will remain undetermined from here going forward unless someone saw something and can definitively say this is what we know that started the fire," Evans said.
Firefighters were able to contain the blaze to one building. Residents said the condominiums do not have sprinklers but a fire alarm was heard and that alerted some people to evacuate.
Others were alerted by a team of contractors that rushed in to help after seeing the first signs of smoke and a family frantically escaping the building.
“They were wearing their pajamas. They just ran out with her baby in her arms. It was hard watching that… just thinking there could be more people inside,” said Roger Gonzalez.
Looking back on the moment, Gonzalez acknowledges they were putting themselves in danger. But having worked on the building regularly, he said he knew the building had a lot of elderly residents home during the day. He and his coworkers barely made it in before they couldn’t go any further. They screamed out to alert as many people as they could.
“All the smoke went inside the building and it like filled up. It was like you put both hands on your eyes and couldn’t see anything. It was just pitch black,” said Gonzalez.
Neighborhood City Councilman Adam McGough said he was unaware of prior code enforcement problems at this complex that would explain what happened Tuesday.
"This is not one that's been on the radar," McGough said.
He was on the scene assisting the Red Cross in providing support for residents left homeless by the blaze.
McGough said he was impressed with the response from neighbors offering assistance for victims of the holiday season blaze.
"The outpouring of support, just in the first hour, a number of facebook messages and text messages, and just how can the community come around and support," McGough said.
Resident Carmen Deffer said she and her husband worked for 12 years to build their home. She is faced with the harsh reality of going back to square one.
"I don't know," she said. "Now I keep working and start again. Start again from zero."
Resident Idongesit Anetekhai was away at the time along with her 4 daughters. She returned to find her home completely destroyed. She said she has lived in the condo she owns for the past 16 years and had just two payments left on her loan.
"I watched on the news but you never know it will happen to you. Everything I have ever worked for, everything I owned, is gone. But I thank God for life," she said.
If you're interested in helping the victims of this fire, donations are being accepted at Trusted World located at 613 Easy Street in Garland from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Items needed include:
- New socks & underwear for men, women and children
- New toiletries
- Non-perishable food
- Baby food
- New toys
NBC 5's Ken Kalthoff and Noelle Walker contributed to this report.