Officials suspect unattended cooking
PORT ALLEN — Tiara Veal, a 23-year-old mother of two, will have to make a new start after a late Wednesday night fire destroyed the apartment complex where she lived, displacing her family and more than 20 other residents living there.
Authorities said Thursday they suspect the intense blaze originated in the kitchen of a unit in Riverwest Apartments, 822 Avenue A, Port Allen, where a resident was not attending to cooking food.
Veal was asleep in bed with her 1-year-old daughter around 11 p.m. Wednesday when she was jolted out of sleep by a neighbor banging on her door to tell her the 10-unit complex was on fire.
“My neighbor was screaming, ‘Get your kids and get outside,’ ” Veal said Thursday afternoon. “When I stepped outside, half the building was already lit up.”
Veal said she bolted back inside her two-bedroom apartment to grab her daughter and 3-year old son to get them to safety.
Veal lived on the second floor of the two-story complex.
Most of her apartment was destroyed when the northwest corner of the two-story structure collapsed.
“I was just in a state of shock,” she said. “Not only was it a fire, but it was my home burning. Everything I had invested in was just destroyed. It’s pretty upsetting. I don’t have rental insurance or anyone helping me.”
Veal and her two children spent the night with a family member Wednesday but are temporarily staying in a hotel thanks to the American Red Cross.
“I’m pretty much going to have to start over,” she said. “I’m in the process now of trying to find some place to live.”
Officials with the American Red Cross said Thursday the agency provided assistance to 10 families — 15 adults and seven children — who were living at Riverwest.
Port Allen Assistant Fire Chief Charles Stephens said no one was seriously injured in the blaze that took nearly 30 firefighters from Port Allen, Erwinville and Brusly two hours to extinguish.
One person was treated for smoke inhalation at a hospital Thursday, he added.
Stephens said firefighters got the call about the apartment blaze around 10:50 p.m. Wednesday.
“The building was totally involved when the (fire) trucks arrived on the scene,” Stephens said.
“Right now, we’re thinking it was a kitchen fire, but we won’t know that for sure until we finish up with some interviews. This is an ongoing investigation.”
All 10 families will likely have to find somewhere else to live while the complex’s owners determine what will happen to the building next.
“Right now, we’re waiting on the insurance company to see what they recommend,” said Randy Trahan, who owns Riverwest Apartments with his wife.
“There’s nothing left but one apartment out of the 10. Everybody will have to move out. There’s no electricity.”
Trahan and his wife owned and managed the apartment complex for approximately 13 years.
“Buildings are replaceable. We’re just glad no one got hurt,” he said.