Four firefighters were killed and 13 injured while trying to douse a massive fire that broke out at an Indian restaurant and spread to an adjacent motel near a busy highway on Houston.
Three bodies were found in the rubble of the Southwest Inn motel, while a fourth firefighter died after being rushed to the closest hospital on Friday. Thirteen firefighters were injured in the blaze that broke out.
According to a fire department statement, the fire broke out at 'Bhojan', an Indian restaurant, causing a thick, black cloud of smoke across the Southwest Freeway at Hillcroft. The statement identified the fallen firefighters as Matthew Renaud, 35, Robert Bebee, 41, Robert Garner, 29, and Anne Sullivan, 24, a recent graduate of the Houston fire department academy.
Though details of the incident were sketchy, Fire Chief Terry Garrison said the cause of the fire at the Bhojan Restaurant and Southwest Inn was under investigation. The fire was under control by mid-afternoon on Friday.
The fire started at Bhojan Restaurant and spread to the neighbouring Southwest Inn, engulfing the entire complex. The cause of the fire was not yet known.
Bhojan restaurant posted a statement on their Facebook page saying everyone got out safe. "Thank you for all the support, again all of our staff and customers are safe. We urge everyone to pray for the safety of the Houston fire department. We are closed until further notice," the statement said.
Garrison said all of the firefighters and people in the buildings are accounted for. He said firefighters died searching for civilians they thought were trapped in the building. Garrison confirmed the four fire fighters were killed when the roof of the structure collapsed.
"Unfortunately, the building had much more fire than we originally thought. The structure collapsed," he added. Mayor Annise Parker said that of the firefighters injured, one is in critical condition in the burn unit.
The flames spread quickly spread through the motel and the strong winds challenged the dozens of Houston firefighters who battled the blaze. Many appeared to be struggling as temperatures crept towards 90 degrees with high humidity. They were given wet towels and water. It took more than three hours to bring the flames under control. The front sections of the large motel and the adjoining restaurant were gutted.
"The Houston fire department has never seen four firefighters pass away from the same incident in the history of the department," the statement said.
"Our deepest thoughts and prayers are with not only those friends and family of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice today but also those who were injured and all members of our department," it said.
"Houston firefighters mourn the loss of our three brothers and our sister and will forever honour their sacrifices," said Jeff Caynon, president of the Houston professional firefighters association.