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Wedgwood Senior Apartments Fire Makes Case For Code Upgrades

Eileen Pace

Castle Hills officials now are taking a closer look at ordinances covering fire protection in older buildings like the Wedgwood Senior Apartments.

The city's mayor is encouraging a voluntary upgrade above current codes.

Tuesday, Castle Hills City Manager Diane Pfeil reiterated that the 11-story apartment building that burned Sunday was in compliance with city ordinances covering fire safety.

“The 2012 International Building Code is when it was required [for buildings] to have sprinkler systems. So this building, because it was built back in 1965, was grandfathered in," she said.

Because it was not subject to international code, the high rise had no sprinkler system. A sixth person died Tuesday, the third floor was gutted in the blaze, and it took several hours for first responders to carry residents down the stairs because many were in wheelchairs or used walkers.

Mayor Tim Howell said this fire makes a good case for upgrading safety systems in older buildings, but he stopped short of saying the city laws would be changed.

“There’s no doubt that we are going to open those ordinances and take a look at them – every single one of them that have to do with high rises,” he said. “We will strongly suggest any type of regulations that aren’t covered by law – going above the codes - we will strongly suggest that.”

Officials said if repair of the Wedgwood requires extensive renovation, it may have to meet the stricter safety standards required for newer buildings.

Also announced Tuesday:

Pfeil said 37 residents were still unaccounted for but stressed that those individuals could be out of town for the holidays. 

So far, 15 pets have been recovered and returned to owners, including dogs, cats, a parrot and a rabbit. 

Only about half of the medications retrieved from the apartments had been claimed by their owners by Tuesday afternoon. Residents looking for their medication should go to Castle Hills City Hall. 

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.