UPDATED: No students injured in apartment fire near strip

UPDATED%3A+No+students+injured+in+apartment+fire+near+strip

Mark Hammontree

Rebecca Dodge heard the fire before she ever saw it.

“Before I even smelled any smoke or anything, I just heard this crackling outside my window,” Dodge said. “Then I heard my neighbors yelling and panicking.”

At approximately 10:30 p.m. Thursday night, Tuscaloosa Fire Department responded to a fire at a six-unit apartment complex at 1303 8th Street between Red Drew Ave. and 13th Ave. All the building’s residents, all of whom are UA students, had evacuated by the time the fire department arrived, and the fire fighters quickly put the fire out.

“We got here and we’ve got an apartment building here with six units – three upstairs, three downstairs – had fire in two of the top units,” Kevin Pate, battalion chief for the Tuscaloosa Fire Department said. “The [firefighters] made a quick attack on the fire and knocked the fire down real quick.”

Dodge, a senior majoring in psychology, said the fire started in her next door neighbor’s apartment, and smoke quickly spread throughout the two-story building.

“I had just been lying in my bed, so I didn’t really have time to grab anything,” Dodge said. “I was kind of in a panic, so I just got out.”

Christopher Gonzalez-Tablada, a sophomore majoring in philosophy, was driving by the building with some friends when they saw the smoke.

“We were about to drive to the library, and then we just saw smoke coming out of this apartment,” Gonzalez-Tablada, said. “At first we really didn’t know what it was so we just started slowing down, and then we saw fire coming out.”

Gonzalez-Tablada got out of the car and with another onlooker, ran around to the back of the building to make sure the apartment’s residents were out.

“So, me and this dude ran over there, and there were people fleeing, and we just started knocking on doors to let people know,” Gonzalez-Tablada.

Many of the residents had already evacuated the building, but Gonzalez-Tablada said he found one student asleep in one of the downstairs units and woke him up and helped him grab some possessions and get out of the building.

The smoke from the fire spread from the building, located just a couple blocks behind the Strip. Residents of neighboring apartment buildings smelled the smoke and left their own buildings to see what was going on.

“We live directly behind the house on fire, and we were walking out of the door and could not see in front of us – we couldn’t see the building in front of us because it was so smoky,” said Kathryn Crenshaw, a senior majoring in economics and Spanish. “We had no idea what was happening, so we ran down the street, and the entire building was on fire. The blaze was taller than the rooftop of the building next to it.”

Pate said the cause of the fire was still unknown but originated in one of the upper units and quickly spread to the adjacent unit. According to Pate, the two units which had fire both have moderate to heavy fire damage, while all of six of the units have some smoke damage. Some of the lower units have some water damage from the fire hoses used to extinguish the fire. Only the two units with fire damage have been designated as unlivable, Pate said.

While no students remained in the building when the fire department arrived, Joey Helean, a junior majoring in journalism, was at work when he heard about the fire and immediately returned to the building, where his dog had been left in his upstairs unit.

“I saw all this stuff going on, and I just asked the firefighters if they got my dog out, and they hadn’t even opened my door yet because I padlocked it before I left,” Helean said.

After the fire had been put out, the firefighters took Helean around the building to unlock his apartment.

“I unlocked my door and they opened it and it just poured out with smoke, you couldn’t even see in, and they went in – they wouldn’t let me go in – and found her buried under my clothes in my closet,” Helean said.

Helean said the firefighters gave Cricket, the dog he had rescued two years ago, some oxygen, and that she seemed okay after the ordeal. Pate said a local veterinarian that works with the fire department was on scene and found that Cricket’s lungs sounded good.

After the fire had been extinguished, and the building cleared of debris and deemed structurally safe, the students were allowed to enter their rooms with the firefighters to collect any belongings, many of which were either wet or reeking of smoke.

Helean, a diabetic, was able to retrieve his insulin and a few other personal belongings, but said that many of his other things were ruined from the smoke and water.

“I got all my meds out, and I got my phone charger,” Helean said. “Pretty much everything else was soaking wet. But it’s all just stuff.”

The fire department and The University of Alabama Police Department worked with all the residents to ensure that every student had arrangements for a place to spend the night.

“There will be several different options for the students who need a place to stay,” Pate said around 12:30 a.m., after all the students had retrieved what belongings they could. “I’m sure the University Police is going to have something. We’re going to notify the Red Cross, and they will give the students some assistance. As cold as it is tonight, we’ve got to make sure they have somewhere to stay.”