SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — The Gulf Point condominium building here was destroyed by an immense fire Saturday morning as dozens of firefighters from all over the Rio Grande Valley worked to knock the fire out, braving intense winds that made the blaze even harder to contain.
Officials said no injuries or missing persons were reported, but a few firefighters suffered from heat exhaustion and dehydration.
According to several witnesses, early in the morning lightning struck the roof of the building, sparking the fire. The blaze was detected approximately 6:45 a.m. by a resident who sounded the fire alarm, which made the residents of the condominiums leave the building rapidly carrying children covered in blankets and small briefcases with their most important belongings, witnesses said.
“The wind really started to push the fire and it escalated really fast,” Louis Balderas, a SPI resident who witnessed and filmed the fire for several hours, said. “The wind wasn’t helping at first but as soon as the rain came down really strong we saw a lot of white smoke. … This is one of the biggest fires we’ve seen here at the island.”
City and fire officials were not able to confirm the cause of the fire during a press conference at 2 p.m. Saturday. But they said a lightning strike has not been ruled out.
“Once we got on scene and realized (the fire) was starting to move toward the middle of the building we knew that we were going to have an event that was going to be planned out for the rest of the day,” SPI Fire Chief Jim Pigg said during the press conference.
“At this time (the fire) is still being evaluated. We have no way of determining what the cause is and it’s going to be under investigation and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
SPI Mayor Patrick McNulty thanked the surrounding cities for their support in fighting the fire and said he is thankful that there were no lives lost. He added the Valley has shown that it is one community and it is great to have this type of support.
McNulty said they are helping visitors and residents who have been dislocated by the fire find a safe place to shelter and said the city will work closely with the state and county to determine the cause of the fire.
“This particular structure has been at the Island for years and has hosted many visitors from around the world. A piece of valuable history has been lost and the city is doing what it can to make sure that the visitors and the residents dislocated by the fire have a safe place to shelter,” he said.
Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said the condominiums have been on the island since 1977 and thanked all first responders who helped during the event. First responders from all over Cameron and Hidalgo counties were seen working together to contain the fire.
“When there’s an emergency, when there’s a need, the whole Valley gets together to protect each other,” Treviño said, addressing the press in Spanish. “Luckily, we did not lose a single life and the cause of the fire is being investigated by several local, state and federal departments.”