Suspected arsonist charged in 3-alarm Atascocita storage facility fire
ATASCOCITA, TX (KTRK) -- Investigators say a three-alarm fire that destroyed a storage facility Sunday in northeast Harris County was no accident.
The fire started around 2:45am at the Metro Mini Storage in the 20500 block of West Lake Houston Parkway at Upper Lakes in Atascocita. Crews were still at the scene Sunday evening, making sure hot spots didn't reignite.
People living in the area reported hearing explosions. Flames were shooting from the top of the building when Atascocita volunteer firefighters arrived. The blaze quickly spread to several cars, boats and RVs being stored inside and near the facility.
Crews pulled a second and then third alarm. We're told as many as 75 firefighters from departments throughout the area responded, stepping up to help fight the difficult fire.
Officials said it took a while to put out the blaze because the storage facility is so big, and they didn't know exactly what was inside.
"Earlier, I saw several vehicles on fire, several boats. It's a storage facility, so it's hard. There are so many different things that could be in there that were actually burning," said Anthony Turner with the Atascocita Volunteer Fire Department.
Once the blaze was under control, arson investigators immediately went to work trying to determine the cause. As luck would have it, detectives said they noticed a suspicious man in the area just a short time after they arrived at the scene.
Benjamin James LaChappe, 19, was questioned and soon confessed to starting the fire, officials said. He was arrested and charged with arson.
"Obviously, his reason was for gratification. Exactly what that is, we're still working on some of that," said Lt. Dean Hensley with the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office. "We don't know if he's angry at somebody, if he's mad at somebody or if there's another reason behind it, but we're going to get all of that worked out."
Firefighters were still finding small fires in some of the storage units Sunday evening. It was somewhat of a challenge to put out because of the uncertainty of what was inside those units. A hazmat team was called to the scene to make sure nothing toxic caught fire in the structure. No injuries were reported.
As news of the fire spread Sunday, storage unit renters began to show up to survey the damage to their belongings.
Stephanie Flores couldn't hold her tears back as she described her family's most valuable treasures.
"Baby photos, baby books, my wedding dress," she said. "The other stuff can be replaced, but there's stuff in there that is precious to us and my kids."
Flores and her children awoke this morning to the news that a three-alarm fire had destroyed all of their belongings. Everything they've ever owned was being stored at the Metro Mini Storage facility in anticipation of their move to a brand new house. The move was just days away.
"Days," she said. "Four days!"
Now, she'll have to start over.
Some people lost vehicles, including boats and RVs, in the blaze.
"My youngest just keeps saying, well, 'Where's the boat? Where's the boat?'" Mitchell said. "I say, 'It's gone.'"
That boat had been left by the children's father before he passed away.
Those who showed up to see the damage were visibly upset.
"Wouldn't you be if you lost thousands and thousands of dollars?" asked Derrick Dorey, who lost his truck in the fire.
Dorey added that he was especially angry because it wasn't an accident.
"There are sick people in this world," he said. "Sick people."
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