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Recovery Begins After Marfa Apartment Fire

It's believed Tuesday's fire in Marfa started in this downstairs apartment and quickly spread to others surrounding it. (Travis Bubenik / KRTS)

It’s been just over a day since 12 families in Marfa lost their apartments to a fire, but the community of Marfa is already rallying to help with the recovery.

The Red Cross has been helping victims with basic needs, and a local fundraiser is already in the works.

Local fire crews worked for hours to contain the flames that broke out Tuesday at the low-income Marfa Villa complex on Golf Course Road. The fire burned 12 apartments badly enough that they’ll all have to be torn down.

That’s half of all the units at the complex.

Firefighter Ed Jennings was among those still on the scene Wednesday afternoon.

“The fire started about 4, 4:30 yesterday afternoon, and we came out and began trying to knock it down,” he says.

The scene of the fire was still closed off on Wednesday, as crews kept a close eye on some hot spots. Later Wednesday evening, crews responded to a small flare-up at the fire.

The state fire marshall was investigating the fire on Wednesday, and Marfa Fire Chief Gary Mistchke says it’ll be at least a week before that’s wrapped up.

Resident Mimi Simpson says the fire started below her second-story apartment and quickly spread. She was at home sick and sleeping when it broke out.

“Luckily my dad was here, and he came in the room and was like ‘what do you have on in here? Something’s burning,’ and I was like ‘I don’t have nothing on,’” she says.

“And that’s when we went outside and realized the smoke was coming from underneath us.”

Simpson says the smoke alarms in her apartment didn’t go off.

“Which is surprising, because they come in our apartments every month to check these smoke alarms,” she says. “That’s what they do for inspections since it’s low-income housing, but none of them went off.”


Linda Heitman with Professional Property Management of Illinois is the supervisor for the Marfa Villas complex and two others in Fort Stockton and Alpine. She tells KRTS she hadn’t heard about the smoke alarms not going off, but she says the alarms are regularly inspected.

Heitman says she doesn’t yet know if the company plans to rebuild the burned apartments.

The Red Cross says 15 adults and 24 children were affected by the fire. Many of them, including Simpson, lost pretty much everything they own.

Roy Howell with the Red Cross of Midland says the organization will be in Marfa long enough to provide victims with basic food, clothing and shelter. From there, they’ll recommend them to local charities, churches or the Salvation Army for longer-term care.

“We’re housing the ones that have needs,” he says “Some of the clients had family members that they could stay with."

"The ones that are in need we’re putting up here in the hotel the first three days, and we’re just beginning to interview those clients as to what their needs are.”

Mark Rodriguez, owner of Mando’s Restaurant, has set up a donation account at the Marfa National Bank, and he’s already planning a fundraiser for the families.

“We’re shooting for like in a week or two, and we’re also taking a lot of donations,” he says. “We have a lot of people without beds, linens, everything that we take for granted.”

The fire hits close to home for Rodriguez: three of his employees at Mando’s lost their homes.

And really, it’s a hard-hitting tragedy for this everyone in this small community.

Another Mando’s employee has set up an online fundraiser and had already raised almost $700 by Wednesday afternoon.

“A great thing about Marfa is that the community is really great about coming together and helping these kind of tragedies,” he says. “We’ve had a big response, everybody trying to come in and help out.”

Rodriguez is hoping to raise about $3,000 - $4,000. The online account’s shooting for $25,000. All money raised will be split evenly between the families who are now essentially having to start over from scratch.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.