Mid-rise apartment building for veterans burns in Midtown

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Flames ripped through a mid-rise in Midtown in an apartment building that houses military veterans.

It happened on Travis Street at Richmond where some residents had to be rescued from the burning building. The fire that broke out at the Travis Street Plaza Apartments, a building for former homeless military veterans, was fast. Fortunately, Houston firefighters were even faster.

As flames forced their way from the top of the apartment building, those nearby called 911 and captured video of the growing fire, as residents scrambled for their lives.

"I was sitting on my couch watching TV and I heard an explosion,” explains U.S. Army Veteran Scott Leeswood-Jones. 

Forty Houston Fire Department units arrived in minutes. HFD Chief Samuel Pena says a burning 5-story building brings two main concerns -- evacuating everyone safely and getting to the fire immediately.

“In this situation, it was on the exterior of the building, on the roof. So we were able to get our ladders in close enough to be able to make quick access into that area. So that helped tremendously,” says Chief Pena. 

Not all of the military veterans living here could get out on their own. “Some of them are on oxygen. Some of them are on walkers,” Pena explains.

"A fireman and a lady who lives here helped me with this (his walker) and we went down step by step. I live on the third floor,” says 91-year-old Harry McGinnis. 

"I opened the door and I heard the alarm in the hall going off,” adds Leeswood-Jones. 

"No fire alarm went off and that’s unusual because we have fire drills and that thing squawks throughout the building,” says McGinnis. 

"I just got out of the shower and heard everybody knocking on the door saying 'there’s a fire get out,'” explains Peter Kircher, who was in the Navy. He was also homeless not so long ago, just like the other residents here who feared the fire might put them back on the street.

“Once I saw the flames all across the top of the building, I thought well I’m fixing to lose everything,” says Leeswood-Jones. 

Fortunately firefighters kept the flames from spreading beyond the roof, but how did it start? “They were doing some work up there on some air conditioning units. That may be an indication of what caused the fire, but until the cause in origin is done, we won’t know for sure,” explains Chief Pena. 

Forty residents were evacuated safely. Fortunately, no one was injured. Some still aren't sure if their home suffered smoke and water damage. METRO buses were brought in for residents who didn’t have anywhere else to go until the investigation wraps up in a few hours. If any apartments are damaged and can’t be lived in, we’re told the residents will be put up in temporary housing.