Victims surprised with gifts after losing everything in Christmas fire


When strangers heard of the families who lost everything in an early morning apartment building fire the day after Christmas, they surprised them with Christmas all over again.

Around 70 people were left without a place to live after a fire destroyed the Ashton Place Apartments on South Allen Genoa Road just after midnight Tuesday morning, according to the American Red Cross of Greater Houston.

The fire spread too quickly for firefighters to contain it. Many families escaped from the flaming homes with only the clothes on their backs. No one was killed, but two firefighters were injured.

The Harris County Fire Marshal's Office says the fire started in the attic of the 30-unit complex and arson does not appear to be the cause.

“There was a lot of people screaming and then my mom woke me up,” recalls 9-year-old Ande Peñeda. He says his presents burned up hours after he opened them.

"We lost everything," said Peñeda, translating from Spanish for his mother as she wiped away tears.

“I heard someone in Spanish scream in the back," says Cristhian Castro, who lived in the burned complex. "They were like, ‘The apartments are on fire....’ There’s not really words to describe it. It’s the day after Christmas. It’s not really what you want to be going through.”

The people who were forced to evacuate from the burning homes were taken to an American Red Cross warming center at Golden Acres Baptist Church in Pasadena. As word spread about their losses, help came pouring in.

Several people stopped by the warming center on Tuesday afternoon with boxes and bags full of clothing and other supplies for the evacuees, many of whom were still in their pajamas.

Then rapper Trae Tha Truth's Relief Gang brought several large bags full of toys. Trae Tha Truth and DJ Mr. Rogers piled the toys against a wall. Around a dozen children looked on with excitement. The co-founders of the Relief Gang nonprofit group told the children to pick out as many of their favorite toys as they wanted.

"This is the best thing ever!," shouted one of the young boys. 

The children sprinted toward the pile of toys, bringing armfuls of new Christmas presents back to their parents who were watching from tables nearby.

“We’re bringing Christmas back for them," said DJ Mr. Rogers. "They lost everything yesterday and we had a surplus of toys courtesy of Relief Gang and Arian Foster as well. We're just happy to help out.”

The American Red Cross plans to provide the families with housing at a shelter until they can find new homes of their own.