Editor's Note: Alisa Pierce is an intern at the San Antonio Current and student at Texas State University. We asked her to share her insight to the San Marcos community in wake of the July 20 fire.
On Friday, July 20 I woke to the sound of my phone ringing. It was my boyfriend’s parents, telling me there had been a fire at his apartment complex. They didn’t know where he was.
At the time, what they were saying didn’t make sense to me. I was there the night before, I had seen the buildings standing tall just a few hours ago. How could there have been a fire?
I drove to 222 Ramsay St. in San Marcos, to find two buildings at the Iconic Village Apartments and one building at the nearby Vintage Pads Apartments completely destroyed. The fire, which had started around 4:30 a.m., was still raging as firefighters doused it in water.
People were searching for their loved ones, carrying scared pets and coming to terms with losing their belongings in the blaze. When I found my boyfriend, he was waiting with other survivors at a coffee shop down the street. Thankfully, he was safe, and his building was untouched by the flames. The fear I experienced was met with almost instant relief. Many, though, weren’t as lucky.
“After hearing screams, I went outside and saw that one of the big buildings was engulfed in flames,” Ezra Sanchez, a resident at Iconic Villages said. “I heard that people were jumping out of windows and throwing their pets out.”
In the days that followed the fire, San Marcos witnessed tragedy too grand for a small college town. Three buildings were destroyed, leaving more than 200 residents displaced and without necessities. Seven were injured and five residents were missing as first responders began searching for bodies. The situation appeared grim, but residents, as well as the entire San Marcos community, remained hopeful.
On Monday, it was confirmed that five bodies had been recovered from the scene.
The victims’ bodies were taken to the Travis County Medical Examiner’s office, where four were identified as Haley Frizzell, David Ortiz, Dru Estes, and James Miranda. Belinda Moats is still listed as missing.
Many have shared tributes to the victims on social media.
So far, officials have not determined what caused the fire and said the investigation could take months. A final search completed Tuesday found no additional victims. All residents who lived in the unaffected buildings are free to move back in, but many have broken their lease and are demanding their deposits back. The central building, where all of the deceased victims were found, is fenced off as officials continue to investigate day and night. It seems that life is moving on as normal, even as the town grieves.
I have wondered often this week if I ever unknowingly encountered the victims. Did I ever pass one of them while walking to my boyfriend’s apartment? Did we share the same study room or sit next to each other in the campus library? I have also thought about their families, who are feeling this loss the most. I can’t imagine that pain.
The feelings I have are mirrored in many San Marcos residents. In the wake of this tragedy, social media has become flooded with people reaching out to help.
Texas State University has raised $54,925 for a Student Emergency Fund
, while a Facebook fundraiser
started by student Adrian Perez has raised $6,737.
Private businesses such as the Blue Dahlia Bistro
and Texas Music Park
have contributed by planning silent auctions
and benefit concerts
. Organizations like the San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter, the Blanco River Regional Recovery Team and the Central Texas Food Bank have provided assistance, food and supplies for those affected.
Residents have also begun to challenge the apartment’s living conditions. According to the San Antonio Express-News
, San Marcos Fire Marshall Kelly Kistner stated that Iconic Villages was built in the 1970s and was not required to install a sprinkler system. Although this complies with fire code regulations, many feel that the rule should be changed in order of preventing another tragedy.
San Marcos is such a small city, so everyone knows someone affected. Although I feel a deep sadness for these victims, the support the community has given them has made me proud to be a resident of this wonderful town.
A wreath and bouquets of flowers have been placed outside of the scene, serving as a tribute to the lives lost. May they rest in peace.
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