BY BRYN STOLE | firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated Oct 6, 2016 at 5:36 pm
At least five people were reported injured, including two firefighters, in a huge fire at the Cobblestone apartment complex on Essen Lane Thursday afternoon that completely destroyed two apartment buildings and damaged dozens of surrounding units, authorities said.
Most of the top two stories of the three-story units collapsed during the blaze, with only charred studs and twisted metal remaining. Several cars in the parking lot of the large apartment complex burned up, and vinyl siding on neighboring buildings as far as 100 feet away peeled and melted off facades in the intense heat radiating from the buildings.
The blaze, which residents said broke out shortly before 1 p.m., sent a large plume of black smoke billowing from the complex, located just south of Interstate 10. Three ladder trucks from St. George and Baton Rouge fire departments and several crews of firemen poured thousands of gallons of water on the buildings as stunned residents and neighbors looked on.
At 3 p.m., the incident commander from St. George Fire Department declared the flames under control, though firefighters continued dousing hot spots in the smoldering buildings late into the afternoon.
Multiple injuries as Cobblestone Apartment complex fire in Baton Rouge
Two residents were taken to the hospital for burns, said Mike Chustz, a spokesman for EMS. Information about the extent of their injuries was not known as of late Thursday afternoon. A St. George firefighter was treated at the scene for heat stroke, while another fireman and a East Baton Rogue sheriff's deputy were both treated by paramedics for symptoms of smoke inhalation, said Eldon Ledoux, a St. George Fire spokesman.
Ledoux said no residents of the buildings were reported missing but that firefighters were waiting for the smoldering rubble to cool before combing through the partially collapsed buildings.
John Armstrong, a maintenance worker at the apartment complex, said he was working on the building where the fire began early Thursday afternoon when he went to maintenance shed to get some supplies. He said by the time he got back — no more than 10 minutes later — he saw the top floor of one of the apartment units on fire as residents frantically evacuated and tried to rescue pets.
Cobblestone at Essen complex fire.
“It just spread so fast, nobody had time to do anything,” said Armstrong, 59.
He said he wasn’t hurt but it looked like two couples were burned escaping from their units.
Araceli Martinez said she was in her second floor apartment with her 18 month old baby and a friend and the friend's child, sitting and playing with the babies when they smelled smoke. When she opened the front door, she said, all she could see was fire.
"We grabbed the babies and ran out the back,” Martinez said. “If we would have went through the front door we couldn’t have gotten out.”
She said her neighbors were burned on the way out just a couple of minutes later as the fire quickly spread. Martinez said she'd moved into the apartment with her husband just six months ago after moving from Texas for a job in Baton Rouge.
Dozens of residents, many of them workers at the numerous hospitals and medical facilities nearby, rushed home from work after receiving calls from neighbors or seeing the thick cloud of smoke rising above the complex.
Sisters Krista and Sarah Rushin, still wearing scrubs from work at Our Lady of the Lake, said they arrived home early to find the complex swarming with firefighters. Though the two sisters couldn't see the apartment they shared from where yellow tape blocked their way, it was reduced to little more than ashen debris.
No information was immediately available on the suspected cause of the fire. However, agents with the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives were on the scene and interviewing people and gathering information.
State Fire Marshal Butch Browning, speaking from the scene of the fire Thursday afternoon, said the remains of the buildings were still too hot to begin a preliminary inquiry into the possible causes of the fire. Browning cautioned that an investigation and reconstruction of a blaze so large could take some time.
Though Browning described the fire as a "tremendous loss," he said the complex — with dozens of buildings located relatively close together — could have suffered far worse damage.
"The firefighters got here and stopped it before it could really spread," Browning said. "This whole complex could've burned up. From what I'm seeing, both departments did exemplary stuff."