HOUSTON — A construction worker had to be rescued when he became trapped during a massive fire that gutted an entire apartment complex Tuesday.
The fire started at 12:30 p.m. and quickly escalated to a five-alarm blaze as the flames spread out of control.
Construction workers inside the building were forced to run from the heat of the flames.
"Everybody was yelling and screaming for us to come down," said worker Raul Hernandez.
Employees at a nearby high-rise say the worker tried to use a fire extinguisher to put out the flames on the roof, but the blaze suddenly began spreading. They watched in horror as the man looked desperately for a way to get down.
At one point, the worker dangled perilously from a third-floor balcony.
"Oh my God. I hope they got him off," said another witness who videotaped the rescue and collapse. "He's on the ladder. He's safe. He's safe, oh thank God."
An employee at the high-rise who declined to be identified said in an e-mail the construction had to jump down one floor as the entire top floor started burning.
"Once he was on the ladder, a section of the building collapsed and was very close to hitting the ladder," the first witness said.
Houston Fire Department Capt. Brad Hawthorne was at the end of the ladder when they pulled the worker to safety.
"We train a lot for situations, but when it all comes together it pays off," said Hawthorne.
All of the other construction workers were accounted for by late afternoon.
Within 20 minutes after the blaze broke out, the flames had spread across the entire complex through a common breezeway. Nearby buildings were evacuated as a precaution.
High winds created another challenge for some 200 firefighters who battled the flames and the searing heat forced portions of the building to give way.
"Because it was under construction, a lot of things were exposed and we're having a lot of collapses of the construction in different areas," said Captain Ruy Lozano.