Former Firefighter Recalls Similar Blaze at Brownsville Hotel El Jardin
BROWNSVILLE – A former Brownsville firefighter said he experienced an incident similar to the fire at Hotel El Jardin over the weekend.
Brownsville fire responded to the blaze on the 1100 block of E. Levee St. Saturday morning. Authorities are currently working to find out the cause of a fire at a historic hotel.
Brownsville resident Lorenzo Lozano said he remembers the once elegant exterior.
“This building at one time was a five-star hotel. I mean talk about luxurious,” he said. “Some of the movers, and shakers of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas for that matter, used to stay here.”
He said the now boarded-up building may seem abandoned, but it’s not vacant.
“It’s by no means unoccupied. It’s sort of like a haven for the downtrodden and the poor people, the homeless if you will,” he said.
Brownsville Assistant Fire Chief Cesar Pedraza said people routinely sneak onto the property. He said the fire department regularly goes inside to familiarize crews with the layout in case of an emergency.
“We had actually just performed pre-fire plan approximately six weeks, prior to this incident,” he said. “So, we’re very familiar with the layout, very familiar with the plan.”
Pedraza said the building is boarded up for the most part. He said someone must have forced their way in order to gain access.
Authorities found a hole big enough for someone to gain access to the hotel grounds. Investigators believe someone could have set the roof on fire.
Lozano said the fire reminded him of a similar incident that occurred in the 90s.
“I had actually responded to some gentleman building a bonfire in the back, so he could take coals inside to keep himself warm during an especially cold night,” he said.
Lozano said restaurants, boutiques and an art scene need to make their way to the area in order to bring back life to the hotel.
“Unless you accomplish the revitalization of the downtown area, nothing is going to sustain this hotel,” he said.
Authorities said the cold temperatures Saturday created an extra obstacle for first responders helping this past weekend.
While fighting the blaze, firefighters said their air packs were freezing to their jackets. Pedraza said knobs on their gear were also frozen shut.
The Cameron County Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating.
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