BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Fire swept through a Birmingham apartment complex early Christmas morning, injuring six people, two of them critically.
Four of the injured are children believed to be under the age of 5. Two of those children were thrown from an upstairs burning apartment to other residents waiting below to catch them in what witnesses described as a harrowing scene.
“The mama was screaming, ‘My kids are in there,”’ said resident Alex Mareno. “We tried to get in but it was impossible. The firefighter came and went in there. He saved the boy’s life.”
Fire officials this morning said the blaze was started by unattended food left on the stove. The fire erupted just before 2 a.m. at Valley Brook Apartments on Gallant Drive in the Center Point area. More than 50 firefighters from Birmingham Fire and Rescue and Center Point Fire District responded to the three-alarm blaze.
BFRS Assistant Chief Matt Russell said heavy fire and smoke were showing from Building 2964 when the first firefighters arrived on the scene. It appears the fire started in an upstairs unit, and quickly spread to the apartment below.
In all, four units were destroyed and, as of 3:30 a.m., firefighters were trying to keep the flames from spreading to nearby buildings. The fire kept flaring up, Russell said, because of the tar and gravel roof, combined with dry wood and low humidity.
Authorities and witnesses said there were two children and a mother in the upstairs apartment, and two children and a mother in the unit below. Valley Brook resident Lakeysha Robinson said someone banged on her nearby building to tell her there was a fire.
“I saw the fire when I came out,” Robinson said. A woman was screaming that her children were still in the apartment.
Robinson went to the ground-level apartment that was on fire and tried to get inside to rescue the children. She said she wrapped her jacket around her arm and broke a window to gain entry, but was stopped by the intensity of the flames and heat. “There was so much fire,” she said. “I almost got in, but the smoke was hitting me so bad.”
It was then that a woman in the second-story apartment yelled to Robinson to catch her child. “It was an infant girl, like a newborn,” Robinson said. “That baby hit my arms hard. She threw down two kids.”
Other residents were also helping to catch the children from the second-story apartment. The mother, they said, jumped to the ground after tossing her kids to safety. “I think I was in shock,” Robinson said. “I couldn’t talk.”
A young boy, residents said, remained trapped in the first-floor apartment until firefighters arrived. “In 10 more minutes, the boy would have died,” Mareno said.
One of the children – believed to be the boy that was trapped the longest – was unresponsive when he left the scene. Police were escorting the ambulances to the hospital.
Police later said the boy was burned and had to be intubated , but is expected to survive.
Russell said he didn’t know the ages and conditions of any of the victims, except that two were listed as critical. One of those critical is a 3-year-old boy.
Red Cross was called to the scene to assist those who lost their homes.
“Obviously no time is a great time for a fire like this,” Russell said. “But Christmas Eve is particularly devastating. It’s a tragedy and a disaster for those involved.”