Baton Rouge firefighters fight apartment blaze on North Street

Fire erupted at a North Street apartment complex, which houses elderly and disabled residents, Wednesday and continued to burn for more than two hours Wednesday afternoon, resulting in at least one person injured and displacing several dozen residents, officials said.

Turner Plaza Apartments, an East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority public housing complex in the 4500 block of North Street, went up in flames about 1:30 p.m. and investigators Wednesday evening were working to determine a cause, said Robert Combs, a Baton Rouge Fire Department spokesman. Arson is not suspected, he said.

Investigators determined the fire began near a heater inside a bedroom in Apartment 5231 on the second floor, then spread quickly from there. A portion of the roof collapsed, and many apartments not damaged by flames suffered major water damage during the extinguishment of the blaze, Combs said.

The fire forced authorities to evacuate all the complex’s residents, many of whom are elderly, disabled or mentally ill.

The American Red Cross assisted displaced residents by providing water, snacks and blankets until volunteers were able to set up a temporary shelter at the BREC North Street Park gymnasium, said spokeswoman Nancy Malone.

By 5 p.m. authorities allowed residents of several of the complex’s buildings to return home. However, between 35 and 40 people’s apartments were destroyed in the fire and others were waiting to have utilities turned on Wednesday evening, Combs said.

Mike Chustz, a spokesman for East Baton Rouge Emergency Medical Services, said one person was taken to a hospital for smoke inhalation and another person was treated for possible smoke inhalation. He said neither injury appeared to be life-threatening.

Tasha Clark Amar, executive director of the parish Council on Aging, said about 10 people the council serves regularly lost everything in the fire.

“Any damage to public housing is a real blow to meeting the needs for Baton Rouge’s citizens,” said Randy Nichols, president of the board for the EBR Housing Authority.

Firefighters mostly contained the blaze to building six, one of the 15 buildings in the complex.

As the building burned Wednesday afternoon, firefighters walked along the second and third story outdoor walkways, checking rooms and knocking down walls as large billows of smoke rose out of the building.

Marc Goudeaux, a Baton Rouge resident, said he was driving on North Acadian Thruway when he saw smoke rising into the sky.

Goudeaux said he watched the fire burn through the roof of the building with flames shooting up about 25 feet.

“Flames were coming through the middle, then to the left, then to the right,” he said, while pointing to the large hole in the middle of the building and smaller holes on either side. “They got it down really fast.”

Wednesday’s blazes occurred about a week before the seven-year anniversary of a large fire that displaced 200 residents in three of the buildings in the Turner Plaza complex.

That fire began when a maintenance worker performing plumbing work drilled into the gas line, causing a leak that soon ignited into a fire.