A wind-blown fire at Southcross threatened nearby homes on Thursday evening until residents jumped in.
SAN ANTONIO — The blaze that set fire to two buildings in southern San Antonio on Thursday night was so large and so hot that it took just four minutes from dispatch for firefighters to call in more manpower along the 2,500 block of West South Cross.
A radio broadcast from the first company to arrive warned of dangerous conditions: “This is a big, big fire! We have a secondary structure that is starting to take hold.”
Videos from passersby show the fire starting and destroying a huge two-storey abandoned house. According to tax records, the house was 3,445 square feet in size and dated to 1930. The well-aged wood-framed building quickly blossomed into a red-hot inferno and also caught fire to a nearby cinder block repair shop.
As firefighters scrambled to keep wind-powered embers from knocking out an adjacent neighborhood of single-family homes, the auto repair shop was also lost when the roof collapsed and the heat threatened to boil cars and chemicals.
As the wind whipped hot glowing embers around their heads and homes, neighbors living along Hollenbeck’s 100 block north of the fire began banging on windows and doors to warn others of the approaching firestorm.
Johnny Silva said his neighbors are traveling out of state and asked him to look out for their home, which is adjacent to the site of the fire.
“I said I would look after the house, so that was my job and I did my job,” Silva said.
He said that as the roar of flames rose above the treetops, he used a truck as a ladder to climb over a high wooden fence to access the backyard of the house to rescue the pets.
With the pets safe and embers everywhere, Silva said he grabbed a water hose to water the yard to save the house, fence, and cars.
“All the neighbors did the same and tried to save houses with garden hoses or whatever they had,” Silva said.
Silva’s neighbor, Belinda Oviedo, was highly acclaimed for his actions, running from house to house tackling hot spots as gardens caught fire.
“Johnny was able to jump fences and think and react quickly, even though smoke was coming through the area,” Oviedo said. “Everyone helped and I’m very happy. Everyone was screaming. It was like everyone was doing what had to be done.”
“We have a lot of people here who have trouble walking, they have trouble getting out of their homes. They were the most important people we tried to save,” Oviedo added.
Pets were also rescued, as Oviedo said they lifted a 60-pound dog over a fence that was locked in a yard and was in danger.
Oviedo said she’s thinking about being better prepared, because backyard garden hoses were the only thing keeping the situation from getting out of hand.
“People came out with pitchers of water and filled them with snakes to extinguish embers,” she said.
Oviedo said when a neighbor ran to warn others of the danger, they realized the back of his house, more than a block from the fire, was also on fire.
“Suddenly we saw a big light in his backyard and only one ember landed on his house and suddenly we saw a raging fire within seconds,” Oviedo said.
Laughing and grateful for the support of loving neighbors, Oviedo said, “Teamwork makes the dream come true!” Oviedo said they all have shared phone numbers nearby, never expected to need them for a time like this.
Natalia Herrera was grateful for the help. She said she was ready for the night when a neighbor knocked on her bedroom window, warning her of the impending danger.
Herrera said she grabbed her snake and began to put out embers that caught her grass on fire.
“There was a fire right under the air conditioner, like a fireball, so I put it out and I just wet my roof, and I got all wet!” exclaimed Herrera, adding that it was very scary.
“We are all good neighbors here and we take care of each other,” Herrera said.
Neighbors Watching Each Other is part of a San Antonio Fire Department initiative to keep everyone safe. The department’s website offers tips and an overview of the SCAN program, which includes four main pillars:
- S – Smoke detectors
- C – Clear Escape Path
- A – An action plan for family members
- N – Neighbors help neighbors
“Because it’s as dry as it is, there are a few things people can do to make their homes more fireproof,” added SAFD spokesman Joe Arrington. replace it, but humans can’t.
Arrington said they always advise people to prioritize personal safety during a fire.
The National Fire Protection Association has published a simple brochure that is available on its website. It contains the “home ignition zones checklist”.
The listing offers simple steps from roof to foundation to make a home safer from embers and radiant heat, as neighbors experienced during the Southcross fire.
As a hot Friday wound came to an end, members of the family who had lost their transmission shop were hard at work salvaging everything that could be salvaged and clearing the site of dangerous debris.
Christine Perez said her family had been in the shop for decades. Perez fought back tears over the loss and said she is grateful that family members and friends didn’t waste time working on recovery.
Covered in grime and battling the extreme heat, they worked all day, sorting through scrap metal and hauling it away as quickly as they could load a line of trailers.
As to the cause of the fire, Arrington said: “Due to the extensive damage to the building caused by the fire, it will likely be an undetermined cause, but as of now it is officially under investigation.”