HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – A heart-pounding rescue from a burning apartment building was all caught on camera overnight in northwest Harris County.
A mother was caught on camera passing her three kids from their second-floor apartment balcony to firefighters, desperate to get them away from the flames, just inches from their bodies.
Firefighter Michael White from the Champions Fire Department rescued them. The 33-year-old firefighter was at the scene and “setting up water supply to the engine” when he heard the mother and children screaming for help.
White immediately threw the ladder against the 2nd floor balcony, wearing just a t-shirt, and with flames inches from his face.
White gives credit to fellow firefighters who helped form a rescue chain.
“It worked out the way that we trained,” White said.
White grabbed the kids from their frightened mother and handed each child over to other firefighters, who ran the kids to safety.
White also gives credit to the children’s brave mom.
“My hat’s off to her. That’s a scary situation for a lot of people, and she took care of business,” White said.
White is a father of four and could tell the kids were scared to be separated from their mother during those intense moments.
“I had to grab them and pull and let them know, 'It’s OK. Come with me’ to get them off the railing," he said.
Firefighters said the building was engulfed, causing the roof and structure to collapse. In total, they said 16 units burned to the ground, 15 of those occupied.
“We couldn’t even see to get down the stairs,” said Margaret Williams, her family, one of more than a dozen families who lost their homes overnight.
She, along with her husband, and their two little girls, woke up in their upstairs apartment just in time.
“We didn’t even hear the alarms until after we started running around. We went to grab clothes, we couldn’t, because we already saw the fire coming through the closets. It was cracking,” she said.
Sadly, it was an all too familiar scene for the family after losing their last home to a fire.
“It just hurts. I feel for everybody. We all work hard, we work hard every day, we take our kids today, and everything’s gone,” Williams said.
Resident Ashley Garnela escaped barefoot, along with her young cousins. She lost everything in the fire.
“We don’t have anything. We don’t have shoes, no personal property, IDs," Garnela said.
Garnela says she heard her smoke detectors go off, but very faintly. Suddenly, her apartment was filled with smoke and flames.
Firefighters say it’s a good reminder to make sure you have working smoke detectors in every room where someone is sleeping.
Around 60 people escaped the fire. Those families, including the Williams, now without a place to call home.
“Starting over is the hard part,” Williams said.
The Harris County Fire Marshall is investigating what caused the ferocious fire. Nothing is being ruled out., including arson.
The Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter for the 60 affected residents at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Houston.