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San Antonio leaders to address string of east-side fires Monday evening

The city manager, along with local police and fire officials, are all expected to participate in a Q&A session.

SAN ANTONIO — Concerned neighbors who live on the east side will be sharing their fears with top-ranked city officials Monday evening about a series of fires that have sparked over the last three weeks in the Dignowity Hill and Denver Heights neighborhoods.

The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at the Ella Austin Community Center at 1023 North Pine.

Neighborhood leaders asked City Council District 2 representative Jalen McKee-Rodriguez for help. The city manager, one of his assistants, Fire Chief Charles Hood, and the captain of the San Antonio Police Department's east-side substation are all expected to participate in a question-and-answer session with residents.

Fire incident commanders who have responded to a number of the fires have said enough is going on that arson investigators are taking an aggressive look at the situation. (Find a map of those recent fires below, or here.)

At a fire scene along the 300 block of North Pine on March 27, Battalion Chief Doug Reed said the contributing factors for accidental blazes are many. 

"But because there have been so many in the area, it is questionable," Reed added. 

The series of fires began during the early-morning hours of March 15, when a three story multi-family home under construction became an inferno once firefighters arrived on Center Street at the corner of Swiss.

A few days later, another new home along the 300 block of North Pine was found to be a roaring inferno when firefighters arrived shortly after 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning.  

Reed said the building was considered loss because of extensive damage, adding that homes under construction are often at greater risk for fire because the wooden framing isn’t protected by sheetrock.

“There are a lot of issues that contribute to fire accidentally occurring because the walls are unfinished and there is stored material inside and that contributes to the fire spreading,” Reed said.

Two days later, at the corner of Omaha and North Hackberry, Fire Lt. Jose Munoz said even though their fire station is just three blocks away, they arrived to find an older home that couldn’t be saved

“It was completely involved in fire. It was one huge fireball,” Munoz said.

That home, which a property management group planned to renovate, was reduced to a smoldering pile of rubble. The flames were so intense that the house next door was scorched and damaged as well. 

“I looked out and I saw a big cloud of smoke and orange flames," said Vincent Aguilar, a neighbor who lives west of the damaged home. 

Aguilar said it was intense when firefighters started hosing down his home and nearby trees because the fire was so hot.

“All you can really do is just stay vigilant and keep a look out for anything happening,” Aguilar said.

Micael Perez, who lives across the street, said he called the fire in when he woke up to the smell of choking smoke.  

Reflecting on the possibility that someone is intentionally setting the fires, Perez said “ They don’t have no respect for people. They are hurting children. They are hurting everybody.”

Fire officials say the abandoned Friedrich complex in the 1600 block of East Commerce has had two incidents recently. While the building did not burn, fire crews did extinguish burning materials inside the cavernous former manufacturing plant. 

The vandalism and threats to neighbors prompted property managers to add 24/7 security patrols. The director of the San Antonio Housing Trust said they are awaiting an emergency order from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that would allow them to start demolition work on the portions of the building that do not have historic protection.

The latest fire in the area was Saturday night along the 900 block of South Pine, in a home that had been vacant for about a dozen years and had no gas or electrical service.

One woman who said she had an ownership interest in the estate said it has ties to an historic African American night club. The building was fully involved in fire even though firefighters said it was secure and boarded up when they arrived.

 

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