The family living in apartment 308, where the fire originated, was gone at the time, and no one noticed the blaze until that apartment was fully engulfed in flames.
As flames spread to the breezeway on the second floor of the building, witnesses who noticed the flames managed to have the other seven units evacuated.
There were four units upstairs and four downstairs in the building
A family living across the breezeway from the burning apartment said they heard someone knocking on the door and when they checked, they saw the fire in the other unit.
They had just enough time to grab their baby and get out of the building before the breezeway, the only way out of the building, became impassable.
“We lost all the baby’s things,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used.
They had managed to save some items in their apartment, but living room furniture and other items were beyond repair.
Family members and friends were at the scene Monday to help remove items from the home.
James Barrie, who has been recommended to replace retiring Ken Orrell as the city and county fire marshal, said all eight of the units were damaged and no longer inhabitable. He held up a melted smoke detector taken from the apartment across the breezeway from No. 308 and said, “It was still working.”
The thermostat on the wall in that apartment was also melted, as well as some of the decorations on the wall in the dining room, evidence of the heat that filled the living room and dining room of the apartment.
The couple had loaded a large screen television set into one pickup, and they said they were hoping it would still work. They would not know, however, until they plugged the set in and tried it.
Assistant Fire Chief Bill Burris said the four upstairs apartments all experienced extensive smoke and heat damage. All four downstairs apartments were damaged by smoke and water.
One building resident said water was still leaking into the downstairs apartments from the floor above on the day after the fire.
According to a report on file at the C.M. “Smitty” Smith Main Fire Station, the first call came to the Beeville Police Department at 10:14 a.m., and firemen and trucks were at the scene until about 1:30 p.m.
Barrie said he investigated the scene and determined that the fire started behind the refrigerator in the kitchen. The refrigerator was in a corner of the small kitchen and did not have a lot of ventilation.
Using burn patterns and the extent of heat damage in the gutted apartment, Barrie said that either the motor or the compressor in the refrigerator probably overheated, and there was an explosion, pushing the heavy appliance away from the wall.
The investigator also said that the interior of the refrigerator was destroyed, something that never happens in most fires. That indicated that the fire started inside the appliance.
Also, the paint on the wall behind the refrigerator was totally melted from the wall, showing that it was the location of the hottest part of the fire.
Barrie confirmed that a protective fire wall built inside the attic space kept the flames from rushing through the building above the ceiling and spreading to the neighboring apartments.
Except for some burned studs above the ceiling in the breezeway area of the second floor, Barrie said, the building remained structurally sound.
According to the complex management Patti Garcia, three of the tenants of the building were provided with accommodations. Two of the tenants opted to move elsewhere and were allowed out of their leases.
The others have been moved to another complex owned by the same company, and they have indicated that they will move back to the Town Plaza when they have an opportunity.
The management said the company plans to rebuild the damaged structure and use it again.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.