JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – One person is dead and dozens are without a home after an afternoon apartment fire in Jonesboro. The fire happened at Aspen Gardens on Rains Street. It houses 50 elderly and disabled people.
The name of the victim has not been released pending notification of family members.
Dozens of residents at Aspen Gardens are thankful for one woman in particular who acted as the only alarm residents heard.
"I'm like everybody else, I'm in shock," Shirley Ann Hemphill told Region 8 News.
She and other Aspen Gardens residents watched as firefighters cleared smoke from their home.
Hemphill said it started as a normal day.
"Nobody in the lobby...just three of us sitting out there," Hemphill said.
Fire crews were called to the scene right around 12:30. Hemphill was there as it all happened.
"I heard something popping and then I looked up and flames were shooting in the air through the window," Hemphill said.
Firefighters know the fire started on the second floor in this apartment. Shirley lives on the first floor.
"I ran inside the building screaming," Hemphill said.
Her neighbors call her a hero as she immediately alerted those on the first floor then went upstairs.
"We all did a boo boo. We all went upstairs," Hemphill said. Her neighbors claim if she hadn't, things would've been much worse.
"I was screaming bloody murder," Hemphill said. "I was beating doors down."
Hemphill alerted as many people as she could before the smoke got too strong.
"I took a big breath of smoke as it rolled out the door trying to get to the end because a blind lady lives there."
Aspen Gardens houses disabled and elderly people. Many, like Hemphill, had to leave behind medication.
"I had mine all packed up but I didn't have sense enough to carry it out I was in such a hurry!"
It took fire fighters roughly 20 minutes to control the blaze. Residents sat outside for hours watching. Hemphill said most of their conversations were centered around neighbors.
"Mostly hoping that everyone got out. I was asking was this one here, that one here? Did you get this one? Did you get that one?"
Though most were evacuated through the front door, fire fighters had to rescue three residents from the second and third floors who were out on their balconies when crews arrived.
The Red Cross was on hand to assist residents in getting their medications and life saving medical devices. They will be working with the Jonesboro Housing Authority to find alternative housing for those displaced. Until that time, the gymnasium at the International Studies Magnet School has been set up as a shelter until the need no longer exists.
We do know there was no sprinkler system inside the building. It was built in the late 70s. Fire investigators are still working to determine the cause of the blaze.