LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - An early morning fire damaged a building at a Lufkin apartment complex.
Lufkin Fire Department spokesman Steve McCool said the fire broke out at approximately 1 a.m. on Wednesday at Silver Creek Apartments, located at 2605 South First Street, and was under control in about an hour.
Units are still on the scene monitoring hot spots.
McCool said 10 to 15 of the 16 units were occupied, but are now unlivable, due to roof damage. Red Cross is providing shelter to any families which need it.
Nobody was injured in the fire.
"In fact, we even rescued three pets," McCool said. "A snake, a gerbil and a dog."
McCool said the fire was caused from a cigarette.
"There was an ash tray on a wooden balcony, right next to where the fire started," he said.
"Nobody could move," resident Jason Smith said. "We all just, 'til the sun came up, we were still watching it burn for 10 hours. We sat and watched this apartment complex burn."
Helpless but grateful is how many of the Silvercreek Apartment fire victims felt. All lives were saved, thanks to one man, Lance Crager, a 20-year army veteran.
"Didn't wait to answer questions, just banged on doors, told them 'Fire, get out!' and my girlfriend was doing the same thing," Crager said.
Crager had stepped outside his apartment to make a telephone call when he smelled smoke, walked to the other side of the building, saw smoke, then noticed a small fire on the balcony of an upstairs apartment. He called 911.
"They did the best they could," Smith said. "Mother Nature worked against them. When the shingles started going, the wind sped it all up."
Smith escaped with two suitcases.
"A man risked his life to go in and get the few things I just had to have to go on from day to day," he said.
Firefighters managed to contain the fire to one building, which housed 16 apartments. Two units over, in the next building, Enrique Lopez watched anxiously.
"I hoped everybody had gotten out of the building and I was hoping it wouldn't spread of course to our building, cause the wind was blowing pretty sturdy," he said.
Lopez was one of the fortunate ones, his apartment was saved.
"They let us go back in around 4 in the morning," he said.
Crager's apartment was also spared.
"No one can replace what they've lost, but we want to try to meet their immediate needs," said Glenna Harkness of Red Cross.
"You see this stuff every day on the news and you never think it will never happen to me until it does," Smith said.