BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Water puddles coat charred remains at the Jefferson Shadows apartment complex in East Baton Rouge, just a day after a Christmas blaze left dozens of people homeless.
The fire was sparked by a toy battery, impacting 26 tenants at the complex along Jefferson Highway near Bluebonnet, according to fire officials.
"I don't even know if they're going to shut these apartments down because of structural damage, I just don't know," said Rick Annweiler, who got smoke damage in his apartment.
For the better part of an hour Christmas night, St. George fire crews fought to contain a blaze that destroyed several units. Investigators said the fire started around 9:30 Monday evening when the battery to a remote-control car overheated while charging on a bed. The fire started on the second floor before spreading to the attic, investigators said.
"The smoke was super, super thick, and it looked like one of the trees started to catch fire," said Brittani Williams, who lives nearby.
The families directly impacted by the flames spent part of Tuesday rummaging through their old homes. One man said the only thing they could salvage was a pair of pants. Another woman rescued her cat, which spent the night inside the burned-out apartment.
A representative from the Louisiana Fire Marshal's office said these sorts of fires are preventable.
"When you're involved in the charging process itself, try to have the equipment that's being charged on a non-combustible surface," said Deputy Chief Dan Wallis.
In other words, keep charging batteries away from things like beds, carpets, newspapers, and wrapping paper – essentially anything that could easily spark a fire.
Wallis advises that people use the correct chargers for their equipment and keep up to date on any alerts from manufacturers.
"Go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission website and see if there are any pending recalls," he said, noting people should also have functioning smoke alarms.
At Jefferson Shadows, no one was injured in the blaze – a holiday nightmare that could have been far worse. "My prayers and hopes for them to get through this," Annewiler said.
The Red Cross is currently working with those families, helping them get food and basic necessities. A spokeswoman says they are also providing housing assistance for two or three families that have nowhere else to go.