By: Doyle Rader
Rhonda was in her home at the Serenity Apartments in Dallas Thursday night scrolling on her phone and cooking herself something nice. She was making a filet mignon with grilled onions. In most respects, aside from the little treat she was cooking, it was a normal evening. Then everything changed.
Her smoke detector started going off. Rhonda thought that it might be because of her cooking. It wasn’t. What she didn’t know at the time was that a fire had broken out in the opposite wing of the building. It didn’t dawn on her that something may be wrong until she saw water coming into her room.
“The water came rushing in under the door and I’m like, ‘Well maybe there is something wrong,’” Rhonda said. “I looked out the door and there was water down the hallway and then I smelled the smoke. I said, ‘Maybe the building is on fire.’”
Her disbelief quickly turned to acceptance as the reality of the situation sank in. She evacuated her home of only two and a half months along with the rest of the residents. Meanwhile, the fire opposite her wing continued to grow. Eventually, it reached five-alarm status, burning through the entire wing, collapsing floors onto one another in the process. Thankfully, none of the residents were hurt.
Some 120 firefighters responded to the scene. As firefighters battled the blaze, the American Red Cross set up canteen service to assist them. The Red Cross also set up a temporary shelter at the nearby Samuell-Grand Recreation Center. Dallas Area Rapid Transit buses shuttled residents to the shelter around 9:30 p.m. Once there, they received comfort kits and blankets from Red Cross volunteers.
“Boy, these are some nice blankets,” Rhonda said.
In total, the fire displaced more than 65 people. Four dozen sheltered at Samuell-Grand overnight. With the shelter now closed — apartment management put up the displaced residents in nearby hotels — the Red Cross is actively involved in the recovery process. The Red Cross is supplying meals to the residents throughout the weekend. Case work has also begun, assessing the needs of those affected and displaced on an individual basis.
“I’ve never been on this side of the reception of aid,” Rhonda said. “This is a learning experience of what people encounter.”
Dallas Fire and Rescue determined a cigarette that wasn’t properly extinguished started the massive fire. Smoking is the leading cause of home fire deaths in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Of the more than 74,000 disasters in communities across the United States that the Red Cross responded to last year, 93 percent of these were fire related. Home fires are also trending up. The Red Cross is responding to 10 percent more home fires today than it was six years ago.
Although some residents began returning to homes on the property that weren’t damaged late Friday afternoon, others lost everything. Rhonda doesn’t know if or when she’ll be able to return to see what of her things is salvageable. She had just bought groceries but knows that they are all ruined. As she tries to come to terms with the scope of her situation, the Red Cross is there to offer her and the rest of the residents of the Serenity Apartments the help they need.
“This was a shocker,” Rhonda said. “I’ve been in some stuff, but this takes the cake.”