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Posted August 19, 2006 EST

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1 Killed, 7 Injured In Mesquite Apartment Fire
All Donnie Tubbs could do was wait. He had met with the people from the Red Cross, and lunch hadn't arrived at Mesquite's Evans Community Center. So he waited, hoping to learn the extent of the damage caused by Thursday night's fire at his Mesquite apartment complex.

"My landlord, she'll help me get a motel tonight," Mr. Tubbs, 42, said Friday afternoon. "Everything just depends on what my apartment looks like. I think everything's going to be OK."

He and others at the community center, which was serving as an American Red Cross shelter and disaster-relief area, said they were lucky. One of their neighbors died, trapped in his upstairs apartment, and several were injured. Five other residents were hurt, three of them taken to hospitals.

Two firefighters were injured at the Foxwood Apartments in the 1200 block of Hillcrest Street when an unstable wall collapsed. They were taken to Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, one with head wounds and the other with an injured leg.

The Mesquite Fire Department identified the man who died as Paul Melancon, 38, but the names of those injured were not released. The fire caused an estimated $960,000 to $1.1 million in structural damage, according to officials. They did not have an estimate for the value of the contents lost.

Fire Department spokesman Mark Noble said the fire started in the unit below the one in which the man was killed. He did not release a cause.

"We have a theory that's pretty mundane," he said. "We're going to have to depend on forensic evidence."

Red Cross spokeswoman Anita Foster said 62 people in 32 apartments were displaced.

Mr. Tubbs and other residents had little with them when they left their units. Volunteers were able to find Mr. Tubbs a T-shirt, but he was still barefoot more than 12 hours after the fire started.

Most residents at the community center Friday were playing the same game Mr. Tubbs was, waiting for permission from the Fire Department to return to apartments that suffered only smoke and water damage to see what they could salvage.

They had similar stories: They had rushed out of their apartments so quickly that they hadn't had time to think.

Larry Johnson, 50, said his sleepless Thursday night started with a loud boom about 11 p.m. Then came screaming and pounding on doors as neighbors tried to help one another out of the two-story building.

"When I opened my door, I could see huge flames shooting out of the apartments," Mr. Johnson said. "I ran around, knocking on people's doors. I got them out and ran back in my apartment and got my shirt and shoes. After that, the complex just went quick."

Cheryl Richey said she could hear the man who died screaming for help.

"The flames were so high and so big," she said. "He got trapped and couldn't get out."

Shirley Downey said she had trouble sleeping even after she went to a daughter's apartment just down the street.

"I couldn't get relaxed and get to sleep," she said. "I'm just hoping I've got some stuff that didn't get damaged."

Jacqueline Gutierrez and her 5-year-old son, Jessie Ortiz, also were able to get out safely.

"I smelled it first, and I looked out my window and saw smoke," said Ms. Gutierrez, 24. "I got me, my son and my cellphone out. As soon as we got out the door, the flames came across the patio."

A firefighter was able to retrieve Ms. Richey's purse from her apartment. In it were some remnants of the fire -- insulation from the building and some ash.

"I wanted to get up there, but he said my ceiling's fallen in," she said.

"You didn't have time to think. You get to the street and say, 'Oh, my God.' You think of a hundred different things."

Written by The Dallas Morning News

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