Castle Hills first responders, city leaders mark one-year anniversary of fatal fire

Fire at Wedgwood senior apartments killed five people

CASTLE HILLS, Texas – The first of many frantic 911 calls came in just after 6 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2014.

Timothy Howell, mayor of Castle Hills, remembers hearing the recordings of those calls.

“You can recognize some of those people,” Howell said. “They were your friends. They were my parents’ friends.”

Fighting the fire in the 11-story senior living apartment complex was a physical challenge all its own.

But the emotional struggle, city leaders admit, is one they weren't ready for- especially after the flames were put out.

"Seeing canes and crutches and wheelchairs abandoned in the hallways,” recalls Gerald Riedel, Castle Hills Fire Chief. “Feeling that you could tell there was a lot of helplessness there.”

In the days and weeks that followed, residents who were left with nothing were living in hotels for months.

Many of those residents were elderly, which created a need that the city along with dozens of other area agencies worked to meet.

“We had hundreds of Ziploc bags of medications over there,” Howell said, recounting one of the many challenges city staff faced. “Who was going to pick them up? How were they going to do it?”

Police officers were called in to deliver the medications. Firefighters became postmen sorting thousands of pieces of mail.

City leaders recall mail delivery being a comfort that the displaced residents looked forward to when they had nothing else of their own left.

Then there were belongings first responders delivered from inside the burned building that were far more personal.

“The one was the passport to Russia for the marriage of his daughter or granddaughter,” said Castle Hills Police Chief Wayne Davis, telling the story of how officers were able to reunite the man with his passport.

“I’m confident he made it back to Russia,” Davis said with a smile.

The cause of the Wedgwood fire could never be determined leaving some uncertainty a year later.

What city leaders say they do know is that Castle Hills was tested and scathed, but made stronger.

“I don’t ever want this to happen again, but if it does we're ready,” said Diane Pfeil, Castle Hills city manager. “We're confident. We know that we can do it.”

The Wedgwood did not have fire sprinklers, which prompted a new law requiring sprinklers in Bexar County high rise residential buildings in which the majority of tenants are elderly or face mobility issues. 

The city of San Antonio also made similar changes requiring fire sprinklers to its fire code. 

Dozens of residents are now part of a lawsuit against Wedgwood and its ownership and management companies.

We contacted an owner of the building who said he had no information to share about the future of the apartments.

About the Author:

Myra Arthur is passionate about San Antonio and sharing its stories. She graduated high school in the Alamo City and always wanted to anchor and report in her hometown. Myra anchors KSAT News at 6:00 p.m. and hosts and reports for the streaming show, KSAT Explains. She joined KSAT in 2012 after anchoring and reporting in Waco and Corpus Christi.