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Castle Hills Begins Shaky Recovery After Fiery Blaze That Claimed Five Lives

Eileen Pace


  The Bexar County Fire Marshal is looking into the cause of Sunday’s fire, which killed five people, injured more than a dozen others and destroyed an entire floor of a senior living apartment building in the City of Castle Hills, just inside Loop 410 in San Antonio. 

Surviving residents of the Wedgwood Apartments filed into Castle Hills City Hall Monday to start putting their lives back together. The first order of business was retrieving medication gathered by firefighters that conducted a room-by-room search of the high-rise.

Mario Sullivan secured the bag of his grandmother's meds, labeled with his her apartment number. 

“They were real good about that. They got her medicines, and that will save her doctors and her some time,” he said.

Vince Casiano’s mother is staying with him for now, but they are looking at other options. “She did lose a very close friend of hers, another resident. And I’m not sure my mom actually wants to move back there again.”

Castle Hill City Manager Diane Pfeil said officials found no violations in a September inspection of the building, and while there were smoke detectors, there were no sprinklers. The law does not mandate them for many older buildings.

“No, it does not,” Pfeil said. “This building was built in 1965, and so it was grandfathered in according to our ordinances. But we’re going to have to evaluate that going forward.”

Yvonne Jonas, a resident on the 10th floor, was separated by thick smoke from her boyfriend, Tony Escamilla, who lives on the opposite end of the same floor. They were forced to escape down separate stairways, and neither knew the fate of the other until they found each other once they made it outside. 

Jonas was happy to find her cat made it out, too. "She was in a good-sized cage, and they brought her down and put her in the lobby," Jonas said. 

Credit Eileen Pace
This rabbit was hopping around in its cage after firefighters brought it down to the lobby Monday.

Castle Hills staff spent several hours Monday combing the apartments for other pets left behind. Firefighters brought a small rabbit down to the lobby late Monday morning. Several cats were rescued, but others were still missing by the end of the day. 

Five people died as a result of the smoky fire that engulfed the third floor of the high-rise early Sunday. Castle Hills police and firefighters broke down doors during the blaze and estimated they carried or assisted 100 people down the stairs of the 11-story building. 

Monday evening, 17 others were still hospitalized, according to city officials. 

Eileen Pace is a veteran radio and print journalist with a long history of investigative and feature reporting in San Antonio and Houston, earning more than 50 awards for investigative reporting, documentaries, long-form series, features, sports stories, outstanding anchoring and best use of sound.