Fire victim asks San Antonio community to come together as they rebuild

Northwest Side apartment building ravaged by fire

By Japhanie Gray - Reporter, Rob Garza - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - A man who lost everything during a Northwest Side apartment fire is hoping the love his community has for each other mixed with faith will help them rebuild stronger than before.

The fire broke out at the Avistar Apartments, destroying Building 3 and displacing at least six renters.

“It was about 12:15 or 12:30 last night and the doors were being knocked on,” said Mark Encinas, one of the fire victims. “I was waking up. I heard them say ‘Get out the house with whatever you got on!’ That is what we did. We didn’t have time to get anything.”

FIRST REPORT: Apartment fire under investigation 

Chelsea Guzmen lives next to the building. Before the commotion, she could see a glare from her window, she said.

“I saw the flames out the corner of my eye,” Guzmen said. “The fire looked like it had started just under the balcony. It looked like it was kind of flaming up towards the top but it wasn’t like a giant flame, so we didn’t think it was going to be this.” 

She and her partner were asked to evacuate soon afterwards.

“By the time we walked out, the fire engulfed everything within seven to ten minutes,” Encinas said. “It was fast. We didn’t have time to do nothing.”

Encinas said he thought his apartment would be spared, but his unit sustained a lot of water damage.

“It is not as bad as everyone else’s of course,” Encinas said. “My thoughts were just thinking of them and that maybe if they rebuild this building, we could move back in.”

Encinas said he knows his neighbors well and that they have a tight-knit community. He even started a community garden on the corner of the building for his neighbors.

“Everybody always are coming together strong,” Encinas said. “We have exchanged numbers. We all come together for barbeques and holidays and stuff.”

He said since the fire, they have had many churches and community members stop by with food and even prayers.

“It does make me emotional, but I do know there is a light at the end of the tunnel in all of this,” Encinas said. “Being from a Christian Jewish congregation here in town, it really says something to what faith you have. Is it weak or is it strong? Even in the midst of the fire, I was still gathering the people and helping them out and helping them get as far away from the fire and it was very emotional. Today, I just saw the heavens open up and angels from all over coming down to help us our rebound.” 

While Encinas spent his Sunday combing through the rubble and trying to save what he had including his only wedding photo, he got more help from his neighbors as well.

“In this type of need you feel alone,” said Guzmen. “You feel like everything is destroyed. The best thing we came out to see if there is anything we could do. We brought water and offered to bring other beverages. I mean you just got to do what you got to do to be able to support one another.”

Encinas said he hopes people understand that community and faith is the key to surviving.

“Regather what you already have, which may be nothing, but the ounce of faith that you may have may be the only thing you need to get to the next part of your life,” Encinas said.

Encinas said Monday morning at 10, his apartment management, which he is very thankful for, will gather all the victims.

There, he said they will talk about how to move forward. He is asking the community to come together with what they have and donate food, pet food, or other items that can help his neighbors restart.

A fire official said when they arrived to the scene, two sides of the building and two chimneys had collapsed. At this time, the cause of the fire is unknown.

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