Fire In Houston Office Building Kills 3,

Thursday, March 29th 2007, 7:51 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) _ Fire ravaged the upper floors of a six-story office building, killing three people and injuring at least six others as firefighters used ladder trucks to help survivors escape through windows.

Authorities believe the fire broke out in a medical supply firm on the fifth floor, but they were still investigating the cause.

Flames shot from the building's top two floors late Wednesday afternoon just as the business day was wrapping up. Heavy smoke blanketed a nearby 10-lane freeway during the evening rush hour.

Roy Anderson and Larry Gill, who work at Rail Crew Express on the sixth floor, said they were outside when they heard an explosion and glass shattering.

They called for help while a passerby ran inside and pulled the fire alarm.

As the fire spread, people still inside called the fire department for help, saying they were trapped inside offices filling with smoke, District Fire Chief T.J. Dowdy said.

``I heard people scream on the other floor, I went out in the hallway and it was filled with smoke,'' Dawn Herring, 26, who works for an accounting office on the fourth floor, told the Houston Chronicle. ``Both stairways were filled with smoke. We all had to come back in the office. Everybody panicked for a second, but then my boss broke a window with a chair.''

Herring was eventually rescued by firemen.

``We must have waited 15 to 20 minutes, but it seemed really long,'' she said.

Three bodies were found on the building's fifth floor, two in the same office, Dowdy said. The victims and their companies weren't immediately identified.

Four people injured in the fire were taken to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, where a spokesman said one was in critical condition and the others were in fair or good condition. Three firefighters were among the injured, Dowdy said.

J Systems owner Jim Jimenez, whose office is on the fourth floor, got out when he saw smoke in the atrium. He looked back and saw the flames.

``It looked like the entire suite was on fire,'' he said. ``It just took seconds.''

Boxer Property Management Corp., which manages the building, declined to comment on the fire.

The building, constructed of glass and masonry in the early 1980s, is about 58,000 square feet and sits on the 610 Loop, a busy highway. An engineering firm and several medical clinics are listed as tenants.

Workers in a Chicago high-rise office tower also got a scare Wednesday when fire broke in equipment on the roof. The blaze on the 45-story downtown building didn't spread beyond the roof, officials said, and firefighters had it out in about two hours.