DALLAS - Dallas Fire-Rescue says four firefighters and four civilians were taken to the hospital after a gas explosion at an Oak Cliff apartment complex.
Nearly 300 people are out of their homes while the investigation continues.
It all started Wednesday around 10:20 a.m. with a call about a possible gas leak at the Highland Hills Apartments near Interstate 45 and Simpson Stuart Road near Paul Quinn College.
While investigating, firefighters say there was an explosion and fire that badly damaged the two-story apartment building.
Paul Randall was feeding his daughter when a loud explosion shook his entire apartment.
"Everybody was outside. I saw one of the firefighter men. I guess he was in there when it blew up," he recalled. "All his clothes and the whole house were just on fire."
Randall says he saw two people severely injured, including a firefighter, and another firefighter crawling out of the burning building.
"He was like, ‘Help!’ But no one wanted to go over there because the other apartment was gonna blow. It looked like it was gonna blow," he recalled.
The blast shattered windows on neighboring buildings. It was felt by other surrounding residents several blocks away, throwing debris into a nearby field.
"I heard a loud boom and then I felt the ground shaking," recalled Savannah Garth, who lives nearby.
Garth, a mother of four young children, said she’s one of the people who won’t be able to return to her apartment. She said she saw the building collapse after the explosion.
"I went back in and told my kids, ‘Come on, we’ve got to go,’" she said. "I’m like, ‘Come on, find y’all shoes. Matter fact, don’t get your shoes. Let’s go. We’ve just got to get out of here."
Cee Cee Thomas lives across the street.
"I was in my bed sleeping," she recalled. "I just heard a boom, then it shook the apartment. It was like it shifted."
Timothy Davis had just arrived to work at the State Fair of Texas when he got a call about the explosion.
His apartment is in a nearby building, but it still sustained damage. Davis was allowed back in to get his insulin.
"All my windows are shattered out and black smoke everywhere," he said. "I am happy I wasn't here but I am sad people were hurt."
Jason Evans with Dallas Fire-Rescue says the initial call was for a possible gas leak.
"When we got here during the course of investigating where the smell was coming from, then the explosion occurred," he said.
Officials can’t say whether a gas leak caused the explosion or even confirm that the reported gas leak they were investigating was actually a leak. We don’t know whether there is a history of leaks at the property in the past.
In a statement late Wednesday, Atmos said it investigated its lines and found no problems.
Some neighbors did complain they smelled gas in the area for hours.
Firefighters were initially unable to get near the collapsed building safely to see if anyone needed help.
"The western end of the building suffered significant damage," Evans said. "There does appear to be charring in some of the area that indicates the initial explosion there were flames enough to cause charring."
Evans says no one will be allowed back inside until the building’s structural integrity can be determined. The city has since announced the whole building will be demolished.
DFR is also investigating resident claims about smelling gas in the area for hours.
"We are aware of what residents are reporting after we got here there was a gas smell that originated as early as last night," Evan’s said. "That seemed to take place after the incident police responded to."
So far, everyone has been accounted for, but it’s unclear how many are displaced.
Families are looking for another roof over their heads Wednesday night and in the future.
"We’re going to do everything we possibly can to make sure anyone who needs shelter, who needs food, water, anything, gets it," said Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson.
Residents said they’ve struggled to find out information. They said apartment management has been silent while they figure out what their next step is or where the next roof over their head may be.
At this time, no evacuations have been made. However, several residents say they do not feel safe staying there and are choosing to stay with friends or family. Those who lived in the building that partially collapsed will not be allowed back in any time soon.
The Red Cross is on scene assisting displaced families.
DFR says local, state and federal agencies will be investigating the explosion to determine its cause.
Optimistic Road to Recovery
The fire department is optimistic all three critically injured firefighters will survive and make a full recovery. The other firefighter that wasn’t as badly hurt has already been released from the hospital.
The four civilians hurt were treated for minor injuries and have all been released.
DFR Medical Director Dr. Marshall Isaacs gave an update on the health of three of the four firefighters.
"They are in critical but stable condition, and we are optimistic that they will have full recoveries," he said.
After the blast, the ambulances carrying the firefighters rushed to Parkland Hospital Trauma Center, the area’s premier burn unit.
The firefighters were investigating the smell associated with a natural gas leak around the front of the complex when the explosion took place.
They arrived, first on scene, on the same truck. The chief said they were "close in the structure" when the explosion happened, but specifics are not yet known as to where exactly they were at or how close they were to one another.
Based on how close they were to the explosion, you can imagine possibly every type of injury from broken bones to a punctured long or having breathed in the natural gas during the exposure explosion or even burns.
Mayor Johnson, Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia and Dallas Fire-Rescue Chief Dominique Artis have been at Parkland for most of the day now.
"As any chief will tell do when you hear a mayday call from firefighters, my heart sinks. Because that means somebody’s trapped or inured," Chief Artis said. "And like we do as firefighters, the muscle memory kicks in of our training. Our men and women were so brave in the efforts they did today. Those incoming crews as well as some civilians were about to get our men out of the rubble."
All of the injured firefighters were from Station 25 and were riding on the same apparatus.
The president of the Dallas Firefighters Association also went to the hospital.
There are about a dozen firefighters who call Fire Station 25 their second home. Some will stay with the ones injured at the hospital until they’re released, while firefighters from other stations do their part to help out 25.
"Really would like to ask for your prayers," Artis said. There’s no routine call."