Smallish YMCA Fire Brings Big HFD Response

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As more than 30 fire trucks and 100 firefighters clogged up Downtown's Louisiana Street in front of the YMCA building this afternoon in response to a three-alarm fire, residents who had evacuated couldn't help but acknowledge the irony that it was room No. 911 that went up in flames.

Luckily, according to a Houston Fire Department spokesman, that was the only room in the nearly 70-year-old building that was seriously damaged. So far, no injuries have been reported.

That includes the woman who claims she lived in Room 911, who talked exclusively to Hair Balls but refused to give her name. She said she had been laying on a heating pad all morning when she went downstairs to talk to the building's manager. She fears she may have left it on and then it shorted-out, possibly causing the fire.

"I feel so bad," said the woman, who was visibly shaken. "Everything that was important to me in the whole world was in that room."

Another resident of the ninth floor, who also would not giver her name, said she was downstairs in the lobby a little before 2 p.m. when the person who lived right next door to Room 911 came running into the lobby saying there was smoke upstairs and asking for a phone to call 9-1-1.

Several residents, including the woman, then went up to the ninth floor to see what was happening. She said someone opened the door to No. 911 and a tremendous cloud of thick, black smoke burst into the hallway, causing the building's alarm to sound. She said the smoke smelled like burning plastic.Once the alarm went off, the woman said, everyone in the building easily evacuated.

Firefighters arrived at the YMCA a little before 2 p.m. and saw light smoke coming from a ninth-floor window. HFD Captain Ponce-Lopez said that any fire higher than seven floors triggers a second alarm. HFD spokesman Patrick Trahan said a third and final alarm went into action due to the possibility that there could be more than 100 people in the building and because of the building's age. The large number of fire trucks and firefighters, he said, was a result of it being deemed a three-alarm fire.

The woman who claimed to live in Room 911 said she had been there for the past two years and was worried about what would happen to her.

"I'm afraid they'll kick me out now," she said. "Other people living here are so mad at me, one of them called me a 'bitch' and other horrible names. That's the last thing I need right now. I already know how inconvenient this is for everyone here and I'm so embarrassed."

One of the women who lived on the building's ninth floor said all the windows in the residences are sealed shut, and indeed, firemen had to break the window to Room 911, which looked out on Louisiana Street. The woman wondered if this was some sort of fire hazard.

Trahan, however, said it is customary for windows on higher floors to be sealed, even in residencies.

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