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Elderly residents escape downtown apartment fire

11th-floor unit at Villa Tranchese catches fire Wednesday evening

SAN ANTONIO – The sounds of firefighters pounding on doors inside the Villa Tranchese apartments, in the 300 block of Marshall, just north of downtown, rang through the hallways as they tried to get everyone out around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"I was on that side when the flames were coming out. I could feel the heat go around the corner," said Mike Ochoa, who lives on the 11th floor.

Ochoa captured the noise and smoke filled hallways on his cellphone as firefighters ran near his apartment down the hall from the unit where the fire started. He said he helped firefighters evacuate his neighbors, many of whom live in the San Antonio Housing Authority building because they are disabled or elderly.

"I knocked on everybody's door (to make) sure. I mean (I was) banging hard. There's a few of people up there in wheelchairs," Ochoa said.

"I was thinking, 'Where are the fire sprinklers?'" said Yolanda Galbreath, who lives on the fifth floor.

"Villa Tranchese was actually built back in the '60s. There is no sprinkler system in there, so it could have been really bad. The firefighters did do a great job, however, of getting here and extinguishing that fire quickly," said Christian Bove, with the San Antonio Fire Department.

Galbreath agreed, saying the response and evacuation went well. A lot of that she credited to preparation her building did after the deadly fire at the Wedgwood senior living center.

"After the Wedgwood fire, we had a mock fire drill. We were told what to do in case of a fire, so it was easy," Galbreath said.

She said she believes that's a big reason why everyone got out safely, and no one was injured.

Neighbors said the woman who lives in the apartment that caught fire was not home at the time, but she does have pets. Fire crews have not released any information about whether or not pets were found inside the burned apartment.

As of Wednesday night, residents had been let back inside the building. Four units on the 11th floor were damaged: one by fire, the others by smoke and water.

SAHA is helping those people find somewhere to stay Wednesday night.

Arson investigators are still investigating, trying to determine what caused this fire.


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