Charlotte Henderson got a call from her neighbor at work Wednesday morning yelling that her home was on fire.
The single mother said she left work and went straight to her Denton home to find the fourplex apartment building where she lives with her daughter engulfed in flames.
“We have lost everything,” said Henderson, an employee of Odyssey Hospice, with tears in her eyes, “but I am just grateful my daughter wasn’t here or she would have been dead because she sleeps like a log.”
Her 12-year-old daughter was spending the night at a friend’s house since it was spring break this week, she said.
“Someone was able to help my neighbor get the dog and one of our cats out,” she said. “Surely the other cat will show up soon.”
The mother and daughter have been living in the fourplex for four years, and Henderson told emergency responders she didn’t have renter’s insurance.
The fire left the fourplex uninhabitable for the nine people who lived there, Denton fire officials said.
Jason Roberts, an employee with Jagoe-Public Co., said he and his colleague, Ricky Lemons, were on their way to a meeting at about 9 a.m. when they noticed a heavy blaze coming from an apartment building located off Fort Worth Drive in the 900 block of Kilkenny Court.
“We immediately pulled over to the shoulder of the road,” Roberts said. “It didn’t look like anyone was there.”
Roberts said once they got to the fourplex, they met a woman who had just called 911.
“We knocked on doors and woke a family up to get them out,” he said. “I hate to say it, but I did break a window out to check to see if anyone was inside.”
Lemons and Roberts were able to help a cat and a dog get out of the burning building and said at least 10 minutes went by before help arrived from the Denton Fire Department.
Battalion Chief Chuck Goodman said calls starting coming in to dispatch at 9:17 a.m. from traveling passersby and the first unit arrived on the scene at 9:25 a.m. They started immediately battling the flames.
“An interior attack initially was started, but the flames were too bad so we started attacking with Quint 5 [an elevated aerial truck] before going back in,” Goodman said.
While winds have been a contributing factor in several North Texas fires recently, Goodman said he didn’t believe that was the case with this one.
The fire appeared to have started on the south side of the building and winds were coming from the north, he said.
“I can’t say 100 percent they weren’t a contributing factor, but I don’t believe the winds caused an issue when crews were trying to put things out,” Goodman said.
Fire officials said everyone was accounted for and they don’t believe many residents were home when the blaze began. Goodman said the blaze had been going “a good bit” before anyone called in.
The American Red Cross assisted the displaced residents and assured them they could offer help for the first 72 hours.
Goodman said the attic and second story of the building were destroyed, while the first floor had severe water damage. There were no reported injuries, he said, but two cats remained unaccounted for.
Roberts, who braved the smoke-filled rooms on the second floor, said he was just doing what he hopes anyone would do if his family were in the same situation.
“I got on my hands and knees and started looking in bedrooms upstairs,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself had I not checked upstairs. I envisioned my own children [being caught in surrounding flames] and hope someone would do the same for me.”
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Goodman said.
Officer Ryan Grelle, spokesman for Denton police, said officers assisted for at least two hours. The fire forced the temporary closure of Fort Worth Drive and one or two other roads briefly.
The smoldering fire started to settle by mid-afternoon Wednesday, and Henderson watched as the place she once called home was soaked with another hose from above.
“I just hope there are some salvageable photos,” she said. “All our memories are up there and now they are lost.”
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.