McAllen Apartment Fire Remains Under Investigation

5 years 1 month 4 days ago Monday, July 10 2017 Jul 10, 2017 July 10, 2017 7:01 PM July 10, 2017 in News

MCALLEN-  The McAllen Fire Marshal is still trying to determine how an apartment fire started.

Investigators said the flames sparked in the kitchen of a second floor unit at the Abellon Condominiums, before spreading to other apartments.

 It didn't take long for 12 apartment units to be destroyed Friday afternoon. Some were devoured by flames, others damaged by smoke or water.

“It started in our apartment, so it took everything,” Cassandra Villanueva said.

Villanueva is one of 47 people displaced by the fire. She and her five children are relying on help from the community to get back on their feet.

McAllen ISD held a drive for donations over the weekend and received an overwhelming response from the community.

Villanueva was especially moved by one donation. A bag of toys came with a letter from a little girl named Scarlett Alanis.

The letter said, “To all the kids who lost everything, here is a little gift. I pray for you and your families. God is great.”

The American Red Cross set up a shelter for all those displaced families. Fifteen people stayed there Sunday night and at least two families are expected to stay there Monday.

While volunteers help the families, the McAllen Fire Marshal’s Office investigates the apartment building.

Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Gerald Williamson said the cause of the fire is still unclear.

He said the city does not do annual inspections of apartment complexes like they do with most commercial buildings.

Current city and state codes require apartments to install smoke alarms and provide fire extinguishers, not necessarily to maintain them.

“It's the responsibility of the resident in the apartment to ensure that the smoke detector is creating a safe environment for them and is capable of alerting them in the event of a fire,” Williamson said.

Williamson said the owner of the apartment building did not have insurance.

Even if the complex had insurance, it wouldn't cover the tenant's belongings. Only renter's insurance can do that.

That apartment building was built in 1976. Building and fire codes were different back then. McAllen's current codes were adopted in 2012.

Williamson said his investigators are working to find out what the regulations were in 1972, to determine whether there was a code violation.

Experts say you should always check your lease to see the policy on inspecting smoke alarms and fire extinguishers in your unit. Owners are required by current codes to make sure they're in order when you move in, but may not be required to inspect after that.

You can request them to be checked, and the landlord must comply.

The investigation will reveal whether the fire was preventable. 

“I work hard, we all do. And just to lose it in one fire is very emotional,” Villanueva said.

Villanueva is focused on the future, like finding a new home to hang the letter she'll now treasure.

Link: Texas Property Code

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