A fire inside a blighted house in Broadmoor quickly spread to a nearby multiplex Thursday, sending residents rushing to safety and one — a novelist worried about losing his life’s work — back inside to save his laptop.
The three-alarm blaze started about 11:15 a.m. and was brought under control more than two hours later, after 67 firefighters pumped enough water onto the structures to flood nearby streets. No injuries were reported.
The fire started at a single-family home at 4221 S. Rocheblave St. and spread to a fourplex at 4217-19 S. Rocheblave. The cause is under investigation.
The first building was "heavily involved" when firefighters arrived on the scene, and the fire already had spread next door, said Tim McConnell, the New Orleans Fire Department's superintendent.
Edderin Williams, 38, was sitting on a sofa inside his apartment in the fourplex when he smelled smoke and looked outside to see the house next door — which he described as a vacant residence under renovation — on fire.
More than an hour later, smoke and flames were still billowing out of both structures as firefighters blasted them with water.
Williams had enough time to grab his wallet and keys before rushing out of his apartment but was not able to save anything more. He does not have renter’s insurance.
“I just don’t know how I feel right now,” he said. “I’m just gonna have to pick up the pieces and move on.”
Another man who lived in the fourplex was less willing to watch his possessions go up in smoke.
Gideon Hodge, 35, describes himself as a playwright, novelist and actor. When his fiancée told him that their apartment was on fire, he left work in Mid-City and rushed to the scene. That's when he realized that his only copies of two completed novels were on a laptop inside.
Clad in a T-shirt that said #photobomb next to an illustration of the Joker photobombing Batman and Robin, Hodge dashed into the building. He ran past the smoke and the firefighters yelling at him to stop and managed to grab the precious laptop.
“Anybody that’s ever created art, there’s no replacing that,” Hodge said. “It’s got pretty much my life’s work.”
Hodge said he did not hesitate before running in. “Despite my better sense, I just ran inside and grabbed it,” he said. “I didn’t think to be scared.”
The computer was intact, Hodge said, sheltered from the deluge of water by a table. The charger was a loss.
The vacant house where the fire started was issued a $1,255 citation for several blight-related violations in June, according to city records. A man named David Klump applied for renovation permits for the property in March, although a city spokesman said he never paid for the permit.
Klump did not return a message left at a phone number listed for him in public records Thursday.
Williams, the man forced out of his house, said he saw a worker inside the blighted house Wednesday. But another neighbor who lives across the street, Mareike Budo, 40, said only minimal work had been done to the vacant property since Hurricane Katrina, despite neighbors' complaints.
"It's just a steady reminder of disaster," Budo said. "Basically, everybody had the thought something bad was going to happen, not to this extent, but something bad."
As some residents of the street were confronting the reality of loss, others were waiting anxiously to see whether their possessions could be saved.
For one family, that meant wondering whether they would be touched by fire twice in two years.
Deondra Harris, 31, paced on a set of stairs around the corner from the fire as she tracked the firefighters' progress. She said she and her husband lost “everything” in a fire on Peete Street in September 2014. Four months ago, she moved out of temporary housing and into her new residence in Broadmoor, next to the fourplex.
McConnell said firefighters put up a curtain to protect Harris' property, but she was still worried about smoke and water damage.
Another man, meanwhile, was certain that he had experienced disaster a second time.
Derrick Todd, 62, said he lost most of his possessions after Hurricane Katrina sent 4 feet of water into his Metairie home. On Thursday, he said, he probably lost most of his possessions again.
"I'm just hoping I don't get an earthquake, too," he said. "Then we're done."
Todd said he was only a month away from moving to a new home. Despite his string of bad luck, he said, Katrina taught him to be philosophical about loss.
His plans for the rest of Thursday were simple: "Call a friend. Stay over there tonight. Drink some wine," he said. "Probably drink more than I should."