Arson investigators will look for the cause of a devastating apartment fire in Everman that destroyed two dozen residences. Everman Police Chief and Director of Emergency Services Randy Sanders confirms the fire was the work of an arsonist.
Everman police said a witness saw a man set a fire on the northwest corner of the building and then run. The fire was first called in shortly after 5:30 a.m. on Thursday.
"We're going to have Tarrant County Arson Task Force coming in here to do that investigation. Whoever that individual was is apparently disappeared at this point. But we're going to follow that lead," Sanders said.
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Sanders said firefighters will knock down some walls at the complex to make it safe for investigators and an arson dog to work. They are also putting out hot spots in the still smoldering rubble more than 12 hours after it started.
The American Red Cross said more than 60 people were displaced by the fire after 24 residences were destroyed by the fire at the Oakwood Terrace Apartments on 917 Coury Road.
Residents say many of those who lived on the second floor and to jump from windows to escape the building. Tony Patterson did so and then he had to catch his mother.
"I already jumped out the window, so I could go catch her," Patterson said. "I was trying to catch her, she didn't want to jump with no clothes on at all. I said, 'jump momma you got do this. I ain't gonna hurt you, I ain't gonna let you fall.' And I caught her ."
Strong winds made it very difficult for firefighters to get the upper hand on the fire.
"The wind was blowing very, very hard causing embers to blow throughout the complex," said Sanders. "When firefighters first arrived, it was a tough fight. We're still in a defensive position just trying to attack the flames."
Sanders said the way the building is constructed led to the quick spread of the flames. The building had a false ceiling, essentially an open space above the second floor that allowed fire to quickly devour the entire building.
Carolyn Roney could only wipe away tears as she and other residents watched their homes burn.
Roney said she was focused on getting her 83-year-old mother to safety. The thick, black smoke made getting to door a difficult -- nearly deadly -- challenge.
"I finally got my momma a jacket, and I tried to run back [to my bedroom] but I couldn't even find my jacket or my shoes, so I just ran outside in my pajamas," Roney said, choking back tears. "This is all I have."
"She lost everything. All the Christmas stuff she got for her kid, her grandkid. Just everything she had. Everything is gone," said Roney's brother, Rocky.
Rocky lives nearby and rushed over to bring his sister a coat.
"You can see her apartment there, burning. You can't see nothing but smoke," he said.
Most of the displaced residents escaped the building only to be stranded in the freezing cold wearing nothing but pajamas. Red Cross workers said they are distributing needed items like new shoes, socks and warm clothes to those affected at the Everman Community Center at 212 Race Street.
The shelter was moved to the Highland Hills Community Center in Fort Worth which could house the larger numbers and offered showers. The Red Cross asks anyone interesting in helping the victims to donate cash.
Two of the residents who escaped from the fire say they are lucky to be alive.
"I am blessed to be here," said Terry Pendergraph.
Pendergraphy, who is in a wheelchair, lives with Dora Burns. Neighbors banged on the door and said there was a fire.
"I grabbed Terry, the wheelchair, and myself and ran backwards down the stairs," said Burns.
Everman police and fire have not yet given a description of the suspected arsonist. But residents have heard a name connected to the suspect and have a message for him.
"You turn yourself in, you ruined a lot of people’s live’s," said Rodney Homer, who lost everything but the clothes on his back. "Lot of people don’t like it."
While no one was seriously hurt, several people were taken to the hospital. Including several people who had to jump from the second floor.
On Thursday night, a person of interest was identified, but no arrests have been made.
NBC 5's Greg Janda, Julie Fine and Chris Van Horne contributed to this report.