Neighbors help others displaced by apartment fire; arson suspected

Posted at: 03/24/2013 10:43 PM
By: Maria Guerrero, KOB Eyewitness News 4

PHOTO: Young girl, 7, helped neighbors who lost homes in fire.
PHOTO: Michelle Rost, 7, helped neighbors who lost homes in fire.

Fire investigators are looking into whether an Albuquerque man intentionally set his own apartment building on fire.

The fire Saturday night in southeast Albuquerque left four families without a home. But it may have been worse, if not for neighbors who jumped into action.

Curious residents at Manzano Vista Apartments surveyed the damage Sunday afternoon, while those who escaped the flames Saturday night still couldn't believe it.

"[I'm] scared, nervous, distraught, I don't really know what's... I feel like I'm in a dream," said displaced resident Elisabeth Hinman.

Hinman was home Saturday night with her dog and two cats.

What she thought was a barbeque was actually her neighbor's apartment on fire.

"Flames were like just shooting straight out the back windows," she remembers.

Just before firefighters arrived, several residents stepped in to help get everyone out of the burning building.

"We didn't kick no doors in, the firemen did. We just were banging on doors," said Eddy Cerna who lives nearby.

Justin Smith, who lives further down, is banged up after jumping over Hinman's fence to help get one of her cats out.

"Went in there and did my best," said Smith. "All the places that have backyards have a concrete patio and I misjudged the distance, hit my foot on the concrete and hit my ribs on the table."

Even 7-year-old Michelle Rost jumped in to help affected children, in her own way.

"Gave some stuff to them so they could be entertained," she said. "I gave them a ball and a little tiny car that I had lying around, and I gave them some colored pencils, some markers, some crayons and some paper.

Fire investigators are looking into whether Moses Hernandez, who also lives at one of the affected apartments, set the fire on purpose.

"If he did, hopefully he goes away for a long time because he didn't think about the people that live next door to him. He didn't think about anybody else in this whole building," said Hinman about Hernandez.

Hinman says firefighters told her the apartment where the fire started was doused in gasoline.

Police arrested Hernandez late Saturday night.

The 32-year-old has not been charged with arson.

Instead, he faces charges for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of methamphetamines.

Hernandez also has five warrants for his arrest.