Neighbor says heavy smoke kept him from reaching man in burning apartment

Joan Espinoza woke up to smoke coming into his home through vents

SAN ANTONIO – A Northwest Side man says he did what he could to reach a neighbor who he believed was trapped inside a burning apartment.

Joan Espinoza says his girlfriend, who woke up before 4 a.m. to use the restroom, first noticed a smoky haze in their apartment in the 9200 block of Dartbrook Drive.

RELATED: Firefighters answering fire call find man dead inside NW Side apartment

She then woke him up, setting in motion what he thought would be a rescue effort.

“I look, I could see thick smoke coming from my vent, from my next door neighbor. So I go outside and I could hear the fire alarm going off,” he said.

Espinoza immediately knew something was wrong and ran to the apartment next door, hoping to help, and losing a shoe along the way.

“I go to the front door and I knock and lo and behold, the door’s open. I go in the door and it’s so smoky I can’t even see in there,” Espinoza said.

He said he made three attempts to stand up to that smoke.

Eventually, though, he had to back out and wait for help to arrive.

Espinoza called 911, bringing dozens of San Antonio firefighters and police to the scene.

Firefighters eventually were able to reach the man who they found in a bedroom.

They say they tried to perform CPR on that 38-year-old victim, but they were not able to save him.

Arson investigators arrived with an accelerant-sniffing dog and carefully went through the apartment looking for clues.

Firefighters say there was more smoke than fire, so there was no fire damage to any other apartments in that building.

Residents evacuated as a precaution, taking with them pets and anything else they could carry.

After a few hours they were allowed back into their homes.

Firefighters say there were no other injuries.

As of late Monday morning, arson investigators still had not determined the cause of the fire.

In an unusual occurrence, crime scene investigators with SAPD also spent several hours at the scene.

A public information officer for SAPD declined to discuss what their role was in the investigation, instead deferring to the fire department for all information.

About the Authors

Katrina Webber joined KSAT 12 in December 2009. She reports for Good Morning San Antonio. Katrina was born and raised in Queens, NY, but after living in Gulf Coast states for the past decade, she feels right at home in Texas. It's not unusual to find her singing karaoke or leading a song with her church choir when she's not on-air.

Tim has been a photojournalist and video editor at KSAT since 1998. He came to San Antonio from Lubbock, where he worked in TV and earned his bachelor's degree in Electronic Media and Communication from Texas Tech University. Tim has won a handful of awards and has earned a master's in Strategic Communication and Innovation from Tech as well.

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