‘I have nothing’ single mom says after fire destroys apartments

Published 8:13 pm Saturday, January 13, 2018

An estimated 40 to 50 people were left homeless early Saturday morning when a fire destroyed a 24-unit apartment building on Lake Hill Drive.

Nineteen of the 24 units in The Ridge Apartments were occupied at the time of the fire, which started at one end and burned through the attic destroying the entire building.

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“I have three underage children and I am a single mom by myself,” Stephanie Hester, who lived in the building, said. “I have nothing. My granddaughter was in there and we have nothing, but the clothes we came out with on our back. We don’t have anything. Everything is gone.

“I heard somebody knocking on the door and we thought they were playing. When we ran to the door we saw the fire and I literally dragged my kids down there. It scared the hell out of me when they said it was on fire.”

Temperatures in Vicksburg dipped into the 20s Saturday and many of the residents were forced to stand outside adjacent buildings wearing nothing but their pajamas as VFD units attempted to contain the flames. As the night wore on, Della Richardson, who lives across the street, welcomed victims into her home and helped them to find warm clothes until more help could be provided.

“They needed a place to stay,” Richardson said. “Some of them didn’t have any shoes, socks, jackets. The kids I gave them pants. The grown-ups I gave them pants and jackets to put on and let them stay in my house. I never know when I am going to need help. Somebody may need to help me some day.”

The additional help came in the form of the American Red Cross, which set up an emergency shelter for the victims at Hawkins United Methodist Church.

“We provide immediate services to help them get back on their feet,” Angela Turner, the disaster program specialist for Warren County, said. “We supply funds to help with food and clothing. That is going to take care of their immediate needs. Other partner organizations will be contacted to help with any future needs they may have.”

Turner said about 30 people came to the shelter Saturday and received services including food and help refilling medicine. The Red Cross was also working with Anthony Monroe, who owns the affected apartments, to find apartments for those left homeless.

“I was just really worried about people’s safety and just making sure nobody was trapped in the building,” Monroe said. “I did have a maintenance guy that knocked on a lot of doors and probably saved some lives. That was the initial blessing.”

No people were injured in the fire.

“It was heartbreaking,” Jenece Grant, who lived in the building, said. “This was the second time this happened to me. It was the first time it happened with me having my own place so it was hard watching all of my stuff just burn.

“I bout would have died because I take medicine and it makes me sleep really, really heavy. I am glad somebody was there with me to help me get out of the house.”

The fire started around 1:30 a.m. and there were visible flames coming from the building by the time VFD units arrived Chief Craig Danczyk said.

“When I walked outside I basically seen a big cloud of smoke, a dark cloud of smoke. I instantly ran in and I grabbed my mom and I told her because we were beside it. When I looked to my back it was just in flames. By then I knew it was over with,” Ariana Jackson, who lives in the house behind the building, said. “It is scary, but I am basically thinking about the people who really have lost things. A house, that can be replaced, but many of these people out here they have nothing to go back to. That really is my concern standing out here. It is the people who need help.”

Tommy Hull said he was asleep when he heard there was a fire and after initially ignoring the warning was able to make it to safety.

“I really took it as a joke and went and laid back down,” Hull said.

“I eventually got up, but it was hectic and out of nowhere. It was cold too. That was something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. That was my first apartment. It took a toll on me. That was hundreds, thousands of dollars lost and I can do nothing.”