Smoldering cigarette likely to blame for massive apartment fire, investigators say

As many as 9 families displaced by fire

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio fire investigators are focusing on a smoldering cigarette as the cause of a fire that damaged or destroyed as many as nine units at a Northwest side apartment complex.

The fire in the 8300 block of Greatview broke out after 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, an hour when many people in the Sugar Hill Apartments were asleep.

RELATED: Firefighters battle fire at 3-story apartment building on Northwest Side

Fortunately, Emmanuel Ledesma heard a crackling noise and woke up just in time.

“I saw that it was very bright and I look over. There were just flames everywhere,” he said. “I just went to everybody’s doors, ‘Boom, boom, boom, boom!’ The gentleman that lives right below us, he’s very hard of hearing and I was knocking, knocking, knocking until he finally came out.”

Residents stand by watching as firefighters pour water from a ladder truck onto the flames. (KSAT 12 News)

Once he felt everyone was safe, Ledesma grabbed his cell phone and took video of the huge flames, which, by that point, were burning through the roof.

Other neighbors also captured the fire on video.

Firefighters, meanwhile, were able to move in and focus on putting out the fire.

“It looks like it started on the third floor. That’s where all the damage is,” said Chief Charles Hood with the San Antonio Fire Department. “It was contained through the roof, but it started on the third floor.”

A fire investigator told KSAT 12 News it appears a cigarette was left smoldering on the balcony of one of the third floor apartments.

The fire did not remain there, though.

It spread throughout that section of building 8.

“Eighteen, 18 units total (in the building). Six of them have been involved in fire,” Hood said.

The fire chief said several other units sustained water and smoke damage.

The building is broken up into three sections, divided by breezeways.

Hood said people who live in the section farthest from the fire source may be able to return home.

It appears that those who lost property in the fire will be able to replace at least some of it.

Hood said the apartment complex requires residents to have renter’s insurance, and everyone who lived in the building affected by the fire did have it.

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.

Azian Bermea is a photojournalist at KSAT.