Early Morning Apartment Blaze Kills One, Two Others Missing

The fire began around five on Friday morning, and by the time the fire department arrived, five apartments were already completely ablaze.

Resident Rhonda Simmons said, "Somebody came banging on our door this morning about 4:30, and said the building was on fire. From what I understand, it was just a passerby who had seen some flames, came by and woke everybody up."

Eight engines and two ladder trucks came out, but major damage had already been sustained. Longview Fire Chief Richard Lazarus said, "The northeast corner of the building was heavily involved. It was a large fire, with volume of fire, fast moving."

Upon arrival, fire fighters were delayed, as they had to lay hoses more than four hundred feet away to get water to fight the blaze.

"For the large volume of fire that we had," Lazarus explained, "We just wanted to make sure that we had enough water, so it took a little time to set up."

Sixteen units were destroyed, and that means sixteen families have been displaced, their belongings destroyed less than two weeks before Christmas. The investigation precedes slowly, as the national response team is called in. The scene is being held so that a dozen experts can determine what happened.

ATF Agent Clay Alexander explains why the scene is being guarded. "Something that you or I might think is obvious, they might look at it and think otherwise. So we need to give them the benefit of the doubt to look over the scene before we move too much."

As firefighters wait and investigate, a rundown of the apartments' residents reveals they fear the worst.

"Right now," Alexander says, "We have three that are confirmed. They should have been at work, but they're not there. Their vehicles are here. It doesn't look very good."

Friday morning, the Red Cross and Salvation Army were both on scene almost immediately, providing assistance to the now-homeless residents. The Apartment Association of Longview is also helping to try and find them homes for the rest of the month.

The full investigation will begin Saturday, authorities think it will take several days before the cause of the fire is known. The damage is estimated at one million dollars.

Reid Kerr, reporting.