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Investigation continues into fatal house fire just east of RGC

By Kenneth Roberts

The State Fire Marshal and other authorities are continuing to investigate a house fire in the Las Lomas community just east of Rio Grande City that claimed the life of an elderly woman in the early morning hours of Saturday, Jan. 4.

San Isidro Fire Department Chief Barney Benavides indicated that Bartola Davila, 81, died as a result of the blaze, which started at approximately 1 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 4 at a residence in the 5100 block of Palm Street in the Las Lomas community just east of the city limits of Rio Grande City.

Benavidez stated on Tuesday, Jan. 7, “The cause of the fire is unknown. It will probably take at least two or three weeks to determine a cause…An autopsy was requested; the State Fire Marshal is conducting an investigation.” He stated that the CSI Unit of the Starr County Sheriff’s Department is also investigating the deadly fire.

The chief noted that “the daughter of the victim made it out safely and was unhurt.” He declared that “the victim was burned beyond recognition.”

Chief Benavides added, “The structure (home) was fully engulfed; we were unable to perform a rescue because of the extreme heat that was unsafe for our personnel. There was no property left to save, and it would have endangered the lives of our firefighters for them to go inside the premises. The heat and fire were too unsafe and extreme.”

“Through our firefighters’ efforts, we were able to prevent three nearby homes from catching fire,” emphasized Benavides. “The three nearby houses were not damaged at all. The wind was calm and that definitely worked in our favor. Water was not an issue; we never ran short of water.”

Two units of the San Isidro Fire Department quickly converged on the scene to fight the fire, and were assisted by one unit from the Rio Grande City Fire Department and one unit from the La Casita Fire Department. The chief indicated, “We have a substation in the La Sagunada area and it took roughly 12 minutes for San Isidro firefighters to arrive. The residence where the fire occurred is approximately 10 miles from the La Sagunda substation.”

The chief noted that the fire-ravaged home was located close to the intersection of Embassy and Palm Street. The unincorporated Las Lomas community is located immediately east of the city limits of Rio Grande City. San Isidro is a small community located approximately 35 miles northeast of Rio Grande City.

Davila’s death is the second fire fatality in the Rio Grande City area within the past month. The first fatality occurred from a blaze inside a Rio Grande City restaurant in the early morning hours of Friday, Dec. 13. Rio Grande City Fire Chief Manuel Muniz indicated on Jan. 7 that the State Fire Marshal and local authorities are continuing to investigate that fire, which claimed the life of a 31-year-old woman apparently sleeping inside the structure. 

Prior to the Dec. 13 incident, there had not been a fire-related fatality in the Rio Grande City area in well over a decade.

This article originally appeared in the Friday Jan. 10, 2020 issue of the Progress Times.

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