A three-alarm fire destroyed a pair of Metairie apartment buildings on Tuesday afternoon, leaving nine families displaced, authorities said.
No one was injured in the blaze at 2500 Pasadena Ave., according to East Bank Consolidated Fire Chief Dave Tibbetts. The occupants were able to escape from the two buildings, which each have five apartments.
Yet as residents stood across the street and watched fire crews soak the charred and exposed framework of the buildings, they said they feared there was nothing left for them to salvage.
Among them was Erica Payne, 26, an eight-month pregnant first-time mother who had just unwrapped and put away the baby shower gifts she had received for her baby girl, who is due to give birth in the coming weeks .
Payne’s mother, Kathy Hirst, 51, and Payne’s sister’s family, including two toddlers, aged 1 and 2, had all stayed with her since their LaPlace home was damaged in the crash. hurricane Ida last August.
“Now they’ve lost everything again,” Payne said of his family.
The fire was reported to 911 around 12:48 p.m., according to Tibbetts. Payne and Hirst said they noticed smoke billowing outside their open window and went outside to see what was happening. It was then that Payne saw fire in the row of trees along the side of his apartment building.
Other residents started knocking on apartment doors to warn their neighbors. Toinedra Payne, 27, the cousin of Erica Payne who lives in one of the buildings, said the fire appeared to have started near a number of propane tanks that another resident was using to make grill food.
Erica Payne said one of the tanks exploded, spreading fire.
“It just exploded,” she said.
By the time firefighters arrived at 12:53 a.m., the first building, south of the second, was ablaze, Tibbetts said.
“We immediately raised a second and third alarm” to send more firefighters, he said.
The fire eventually spread to the second building. Crews brought the fire under control at 1:56 p.m.
Department investigators were notified of the propane tanks, but the cause of the fire had not been determined by early Tuesday afternoon. “This is all under investigation,” Tibbetts said.
Meanwhile, distraught residents were trying to figure out where they could go and what they could do. Hirst’s car, parked behind the buildings, was not damaged, she said. But her purse, phone and car keys were inside the most damaged building.
“I have nothing,” Toinedra Payne repeated over and over. “I just paid my rent for three months. I just went shopping. My car keys were in the house.”
As she stood under a nearby carport, on the verge of tears, her sons, aged 10, 8 and 4, laughed and chased after each other while a neighbor told her that she and her children were safe.
“I’m grateful,” Toinedra Payne said. “I had just said my prayers.”