3 critical firefighters, 5 more injured in explosion at Southeast Oak Cliff apartments
Updated at 9:58 pm: Updated to note that all injured civilians have been released from hospitals.
An explosion destroyed an apartment building in southeast Oak Cliff on Wednesday morning, injuring eight people – including four firefighters – and leaving hundreds displaced.
Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans was hesitant to characterize the Highland Hills Apartments explosion as a gas explosion, saying investigators were still working to determine the cause. However, residents reported smelling gas in the area the night before the explosion, he said.
Firefighters were called about a gas leak at the 5700 block complex of Highland Hills Drive, near Simpson Stuart and Bonnie View roads, around 10:20 a.m. Wednesday. They could smell gas near one of the buildings when they arrived, and the explosion happened while they were investigating, Evans said.
Aerial footage showed heavy damage to a building in the complex, with a corner of the two-story structure destroyed and smoke billowing from a large hole in the roof. Damaged windows could be seen in neighboring buildings and the explosion threw debris 20 to 30 meters away.
Evans said the west side of the building suffered extensive damage and charring from the resulting fire, making it too unstable for firefighters and other first responders to enter and search thoroughly. The blaze was extinguished later that day, and in a statement released Wednesday evening, Evans said the building was demolished due to its instability.
“When you face an explosion that caused so much damage to a two-story apartment building, you can only begin to imagine what kind of impact it can have on a human body,” Evans said.
But everyone in the building that exploded had been found, officials said.
Evans could not confirm whether authorities had visited the compound earlier to verify reports of a gas leak.
Late Wednesday, Atmos Energy released a statement saying its crews found no problems with its lines during checks after the fire.
“After verifying that gas was turned off at the meter that supplies the apartment complex, our highly trained technicians began to perform safety checks of the Atmos Energy system,” the utility said in the statement. “Atmos Energy verified that our system is working as intended and we found no indication that our system was involved.
“The safety of our community is our top priority, and our teams remain on site to work to assist emergency responders,” the statement said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the firefighters and residents who have been injured. “
The injured person
Three of the injured firefighters were in critical but stable condition at Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas Fire-Rescue medical director Dr Marshal Isaacs told a press conference Wednesday. The injured fourth firefighter was taken to hospital in stable condition and then released.
Dallas Fire Chief Dominique Artis said at the same press conference that firefighters were able to speak to injured firefighters, which he said was a good indicator of their prospects for recovery.
Late Wednesday Evans said all injured civilians were discharged from hospitals. Three of those people were in Parkland, Isaacs said. It was not clear where the fourth person was treated.
Artis said all of the injured firefighters came from the same station and worked on the same device at the time.
The chief did not say which station the firefighters came from, but WFAA-TV (Channel 8) and KDFW-TV (Channel 4), citing union officials, said they were assigned to Station 25, which is Located in the 2100 block of 56th Street, near Ledbetter Drive and Lancaster Road in southeast Oak Cliff.
Artis said he was at a fire station handing over a summons to a team when he and his colleagues started hearing radio traffic about the blaze.
“Like any chef would, when you hear a distress call from your firefighters your heart sinks because it means someone is stuck or injured,” he said. “Like we do as firefighters, muscle memory comes into play, our training.
“Our men and women have been so courageous in their efforts today,” he said. “These incoming crews as well as the help of civilians, I heard, were also able to help us get our people out of the rubble. We will pray and we ask each of you to pray for these members.
Jim McDade, president of the Dallas Fire Fighters Association, said the department would send teams to stand guard near rooms at Parkland Memorial Hospital as long as firefighters remained there.
“The whole department is supporting the guys who are here,” he said. “We will make sure they and their families are taken care of throughout this ordeal.”
“Like a … horror movie”
Paul Randall, who lives in a nearby apartment building, said he saw a firefighter escape from the building when it blew up.
“All of her clothes and the whole house were on fire,” Randall said.
Synicia Johnson was at home with her 17-year-old son in an adjacent building at the time of the explosion.
“I heard the sound of the kaboom and ran outside to see what was going on,” she said, adding that she had seen people who had been injured. “It was like a scary horror movie.”
T’mya and Christina Sanders, who live in apartments next to Mountain Creek, said their apartment vibrated and their furniture shook from the explosion. They saw smoke and fire coming out of the building as a firefighter limped down the street.
Mayor Eric Johnson, who arrived at the scene early Wednesday afternoon, said: “It looks pretty bad, it smells – it’s a big fire.
“Please pray for our firefighters and for the civilians who have been injured,” Johnson said in a Twitter post which called the explosion a “terrible situation.”
City Council member Tennell Atkins, whose district includes the apartment complex, said his office down the street was evacuated around 11 a.m. due to the explosion.
Atkins and Johnson said the city was working to provide resources to displaced residents.
“There are a lot of residents who are probably in need right now,” Atkins said. “The people who live in the apartment have no place to go. “
Around 7 p.m. Wednesday, American Red Cross spokeswoman Krystal Smith said 250 people had been displaced as teams worked to keep the area safe before some residents returned. At 9 p.m., however, Evans of Dallas Fire-Rescue issued a press release indicating the number of people displaced at around 300.
The Red Cross has set up a reception area at the Tommy M. Allen Recreation Center on Bonnie View Road to assist the displaced, Smith said.
Authorities did not know how many apartments had been damaged.
In a written statement, Philadelphia-based Mountain Creek Apts LP, which owns the resort, said it was “gathering information and awaiting a report from firefighters on the cause” of the explosion.
Property managers were working to find housing for the displaced residents, the statement said.
Other recent explosions
Although the cause of the explosion has not been determined, officials feared it was the result of a natural gas leak.
“If this is a gas leak, it is something that we have to be very, very serious to examine and understand why it has happened,” the mayor said.
Between 2006 and 2018, more than two dozen homes in north and central Texas exploded due to a natural gas leak, an investigation of The morning news from Dallas find. Nine people died and at least 22 others were injured in the blasts.
Among the victims was 12-year-old Linda “Michellita” Rogers. His family’s home in the 3500 block of Espanola Drive exploded in the early hours of February 23, 2018, the morning after Atmos investigated and fixed leaks on a street just behind the house.
Atmos discovered 28 other leaks in the neighborhood in the days following the fatal explosion.
Federal investigators later discovered Atmos had known of gas leaks in the Northwestern neighborhood of Dallas for more than seven weeks before the explosion that killed Rogers.