A fire broke out around 12 pm in a 396-unit apartment complex in downtown Houston on Tuesday. The $50 million luxury Axis Apartment project was still under construction in Houston's Montrose district, and it was completely destroyed.
Authorities said it was fueled by gusty winds that turned from a small rooftop fire to a blaze that completely engulfed the large apartment complex.
The entire structure collapsed and was reduced to ashes just months before it was to open to tenants in June.
Houston Fire Department (HFD) Capt. Ruy Lozano said a construction worker was rescued by ladder after he had jumped from the fourth-floor balcony to a balcony on the third floor, as onlookers gasped.
He was rescued "pretty much seconds before the fire would have overtaken him," Lozano said.
Once the worker was safe, HFD "immediately went into a defensive posture" and began dousing the fire and some of the adjoining housing units, Lozano said. "This was a huge undertaking."
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"There was a report of a couple of guys working on the roof doing welding," said HFD Deputy Chief Greg Lewis. "When our units arrived, there was a small fire and construction workers were attempting to put it out. There was sustained wind of 15 to 20 miles an hour, and it was a wind-driven fire."
All construction workers who had been in the high-rise building were accounted for, and no injuries have been reported, Lozano said.
Reports said that it took more than 200 emergency responders to battle the fire, and more than 2 1/2 hours before they got it under control.
"The fire started on the northeast corner of the roof," said David Byers, the building superintendent for an complex close by, "I was on an upper floor and I had a good view."
The HFD said that the thick black smoke and enormous blaze prompted immediate evacuation to nearby buildings, as firefighters sprayed them to prevent ember fires. No other buildings were damaged, but plastic fixtures melted on some nearby vehicles.
Paul Johnston, chief operating officer for JLB Partners in Dallas, appeared stunned after surveying what remained of his huge apartment complex project:
"This was a first for us, unfortunately," Johnston said, adding that the building was insured.
Ninety construction workers were in the building when the fire started, he said, and the company's priority is "that everyone is safe, and we cooperate with the authorities."
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