Woman saved when grill starts north Wichita apartment fire

Published On: Mar 13 2014 07:29:36 PM CDT   Updated On: Mar 13 2014 10:23:48 PM CDT

After an outbreak of wildfires Thursday afternoon, it took fire crews longer than normal to get an apartment fire in north Wichita.

Four units were damaged and several residents are without a home.

Neighbors thought they heard popping sounds around 6:45 p.m. Thursday and saw flames near one of the Pelican Point apartment buildings, 2100 N. Meridian. "I thought they were having just a little cook out because I just saw little fireballs on the floor," said Erica Higadera.

But the fireballs quickly spread and Higadera knew she had to make sure no one was inside.

Samantha Rivera was inside and was sleeping. "This lady, she came and knocked, and I was ignoring it the whole time until she started banging on my window," said Rivera. "I got up, opened my door, and saw black smoke everywhere. Like to the point where I couldn't breathe."

They tried to throw a bucket of water on the fire but the flames were too intense.

"It was several minutes before we could get units here to put the fire out," said Wichita Fire Battalion Chief Rich Harris. "That just had to do with the number of grass fires we've had today and the amount of wind didn't help matters."

Rivera says Higadera saved her life. "I really thank her so much because if it wasn't for her I'd be in there burning along with the rest of the stuff."

Investigators believe the fire started in a grill on the second floor patio. Rivera says her dad was barbequing and had to leave for a minute. That's when she thinks some of the burning charcoal fell down below and the fire started to spread. "I wouldn't want anybody else to go through this because it's really scary," said Rivera.

"It doesn't take much to get something going so please be careful," said Harris.

Investigators say the fire caused about $330,000 in damage. They say grills are illegal at apartments in Wichita and violators will be ticketed.