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Cause of fatal apartment fire still under investigation

December 26, 2018

Latino music rang out in front of Country Club Village Apartments in southwest Houston on Christmas, and the scents of melted wood and plastic mixed with that of tamales roasting on a grill at the fire-damaged apartment complex — residents could not let Sunday night’s tragedy completely overshadow their Christmas tamale tradition.

But a burnt smell still lingered in the air close to buildings four and three, which were destroyed in the heavy fire, subduing the festive spirit. About 40 adults and children watched as arson investigators filtered in and out of the buildings to determine the cause of the fatal fire. Mario Gallegos, a public information officer with the Houston Fire Department, said about six apartments were destroyed while nearly 60 residents were affected by smoke and electrical damage.

It was not only apartments that were destroyed by the blaze.

Ten-year-old Angel Molina, the oldest of four siblings, lost his life in the fire. His father, Pedro Guerra, was burned on the left side of his body as he tried to rescue his son from his bedroom. Guerra is in intensive care at Memorial Hermann Hospital.

Standing in the middle of the group of onlookers Tuesday afternoon was Walter Airaheta — his neighbors flocked to him to translate information for them.

“I lost everything,” Airaheta said, who lived in one of the affected apartments with his wife and son. “The landlord said he would pay us back rent, but I have nowhere to go. I stayed with a friend last night.”

The landlord could not be reached Tuesday.

The American Red Cross set up a shelter Monday for the displaced residents at the Vietnamese Community Center at 7100 Clarewood — which Airaheta didn’t know about — but closed it down the following day.

Tina Thien-An Nguyen and Hoa Cung of the Vietnamese Community Center pulled up to the apartments on Christmas Day with a handful of papers for those affected by the fire to fill out. They asked Airaheta to urge people to use the resources available to them at the community center — food, clothes, backpacks, toys and more.

The pair said that only three people used the shelter Tuesday night — most victims opted to stay with friends and family instead.

massarah.mikati@chron.com

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