A deadly fire on Sunday morning killed five people and sent eleven others to the hospital, one of whom in critical condition, at the Wedgwood Senior Apartments in the San Antonio, Texas, suburb of Castle Hills. Firefighters called to the scene of the three-alarm fire on Blanco Road carried some of the residents of the 11-story building to safety through windows and down ladders. In all, approximately 150 people in the building, which houses over 700, were evacuated.
Witnesses at the scene of the Castle Hills fire described smoke billowing from the back of the structure. Charles Hood, chief of the San Antonio Fire Department, described the building’s third floor as entirely gutted with charred doors. It is believed that the fire began on the third floor at approximately 6:30 a.m. Hood said that after inspecting the damage, he is amazed that more lives were not lost.
Although the high-rise is located within the fire district of Castle Hills, the size of the fire forced Castle Hills officials to call in emergency vehicles from San Antonio and throughout the county of Bexar. Two evacuation ambulances, over-sized for use in emergencies, were also necessary. All told, over 150 firefighters were on hand to help to control the blaze and rescue residents.
More than 45 units responded to the scene of the second fire to break out in a high-rise during the past several weeks. The San Antonio Fire Department had recently completed training in high-rise fires shortly before the first fire occurred.
The over 260,000 square feet senior apartment building was constructed in 1965. The cause of the fire, which has been extinguished, has not been determined. The Express-News is reporting that some residents said that although they believed the building was equipped with automatic sprinklers, they did not turn on. Others living in the building claimed that there were no sprinkler systems installed, including one woman who lives on the third floor where it is believed the fire began. Still, two others said the sprinklers had been operating on their floors.
Mayor Pro Tem of Castle Hills, John Squire, was unable to say when the building’s occupants will be allowed to return to their homes. Firefighters will enter the building to retrieve medications upon the request of displaced occupants, who will either stay with families or were transported to a hotel with assistance by VIA.
City buses drove approximately 150 residents to an evacuation center at Churchill High School where they are waiting to be reunited with family. On Sunday afternoon, there were around 100 residents remaining at the high school. Any families whose loved ones live at the Wedgewood Senior Apartments can contact the Red Cross for help in locating their family members.
City Manager of Castle Hills, Diane Pfeil, said that efforts were immediately taken to deliver blankets to the high school evacuation center. Both the Castle Hills Women’s Club and the Red Cross provided blankets and food to the displaced seniors. The Castle Hills Police Department will be in charge of distributing medication to those who have been displaced. Laura Jesse, spokeswoman for the Bexar County Fire Marshall, said that not all of the residents of the building in the San Antonio suburb of Castle Hills have been located.
By Jennifer Pfalz