Meth lab suspected in second, earlier blaze in apartment
Fire investigators — leaving a fire with two arson suspects in their car — spotted smoke billowing out of a parked recreational vehicle, but by the time they arrived, it was too late to save the man inside.
Investigators were unable to rescue the man, identified by family members as Calvin Henry, 47, because of the heat emanating from the vehicle and the fire raging inside, Baton Rouge Fire Department spokesman Robert Combs said.
Fire investigators do not carry traditional firefighting tools used to break into burning buildings, Combs said.
Firefighters arrived at 841 N. 22nd St., at 2:46 a.m., four minutes after the investigators called for help, Combs said.
The fire was extinguished at 2:55 a.m., he said.
Henry’s older sister, Brenda Joseph, said her younger brother was alive when the investigators arrived.
“The Fire Department said they tried to get him out, but couldn’t until after the fire was out,” Joseph said, pointing to a window that was pushed out from the inside as proof that Henry tried to escape. “He couldn’t get out. They couldn’t save him.”
She said when the firefighters extinguished the fire, they found his body by the door.
She said firefighters told her the cause of the fire was an overloaded electrical socket.
Combs would not confirm whether an overloaded socket was the cause until the investigation is complete.
“I was hurt. The family just hurts,” Joseph said. She had just visited with her brother Friday night at a concert. “Unforeseen occurrence happens and it was just a shock,”
She said she spoke to the investigators who tried to save her brother and holds no ill will toward them for not being able to save him.
“They did their best,” she said.
The fire left broken windows and heavy damage to the door and roof on the RV. Pink flowers remained unburned on a rack attached to the rear of the RV.
“He loved to dress and dance and party,” Joseph said.
She said he also loved hanging out with family.
Joseph said Henry would stop by her house to either partake of her home cooking, watch movies with her son or play with her poodle.
The two fire investigators were near Henry’s RV because of another fire that had occurred about three hours earlier in a second-floor apartment off South Acadian Thruway.
Firefighters were called to The Villa apartments at 11:49 p.m., because of an apartment fire at 3344 Carol Drive. However, when they arrived, they found what they believed was a methamphetamine lab in the bedroom, Combs said.
The fire was contained in the bedroom, Combs said.
Joseph B. Garcia, 34, 18136 Beechwood Subdivision Road, Prairieville, and Pietra M. Brocato, 32, no address available, were booked into Parish Prison on counts of aggravated arson and creation/operation of a clandestine lab, Combs said.
A third person was taken to a hospital with second- and third-degree burns to his upper body, according to court documents. He will be booked into Parish Prison on the same counts as Garcia and Brocato once he is released from the hospital, Combs said.
In the meantime investigators are unsure exactly how the fire started.
“With the possibility of it being a meth lab, that makes it a criminal activity, and if that’s what started the fire, then any type of criminal act starting the fire like that makes it arson,” Combs said
Combs said he was not sure if the three people who were in the apartment lived there.
Neighbors recalled seeing an eerie glow in the windows of Apartment 3 where the fire occurred.
“At first, it was smoke coming out of the hallway window and door,” Hamilton Ridenour, who lives across the street from the apartment with the suspected meth lab, said. “There wasn’t the stereotypical big explosion.”
Ridenour said once the fire was out, he saw firefighters removing what looked like aluminum foil from the windows and smashing the windows to allow smoke to get out of the apartment.
He said people around the complex had mentioned they thought something was going on in the apartment.
“We kind of thought it was a pot house or meth lab,” he said.