The 3-11 Fire
As a result of extensive investigations by several agencies and testimony presented in court, the following information about the cause of the fire has come to light.
The 24-hour day for the "A" shift was almost over on the morning of February 14, 2000. The house lights came on at 0433 and the crew of Engine and Ladder 76 woke up to the thought that; given the time of the morning, the call could turn out to be a working fire. They were being dispatched to a building fire at 12602 Bissonnet at Huntington Place just 1.9 miles from Fire Station 76. They manned their apparatus like they have done many times before not realizing that two of their fire fighters would not return to quarters with them at the end of the shift. The equipment from Station 76 was the first to arrive at the location, which was a McDonald’s Restaurant that they had passed by many times before. The crew of Station 76 began doing their job just like they always did; however, things turned bad very quickly. Soon after fire fighters Lewis Mayo and Kim Smith entered the building and headed toward the rear of the restaurant, the suspended ceiling along with the air conditioning ducts fell in first, trapping the two fire fighters. Lewis Mayo was covered by the ceiling and was soon located and was transported to Herman Hospital by Medic 75. Kim Smith was also covered by the fallen roof; however, her escape path was blocked. She managed to free herself and head toward the rear of the restaurant desperately, looking for a way out. When the area of the roof containing the air containing fell in, this fueled the fire causing it to intensify and engulfing Kim after she was unable to find her way to safety. After she was located just twelve feet from the back entrance, her body was taken out of the still smoldering building. Her fellow Fire Fighters stood in two lines to shield her from the on looking news media and the public and placed her in Medic 68. Engine 82 escorted medic 68 to Station 75. Hundreds of fire fighters had gathered there for prayer for the two fallen fire fighters. When the convoy arrived at Station 75, several fire fighters placed flowers in the back of the medic unit. The body of fire fighter Kim Smith was then transported to the Harris County Coroner.
The cause of the fire
The restaurant had been entered earlier that morning by three teenage males who were attempting to gain access to the safe. The teens had been given a key by an accomplice who was a McDonalds employee. They had taken in with them a cutting torch to open the safe. They had received information that the safe contained the weekend receipts that could total up to 18,000 dollars. It took them several hours to get the first door of the safe open. An attempt to open the second door of the safe failed. They then allegedly left the restaurant and went to a local 24 hour Wal Mart and purchased another cutting torch.
After another attempt to gain access to the area of the safe that contained the cash failed this angered one of the youths. They then began to tear up the office in retaliation. One of the teens then allegedly set the storage cabinets in the office on fire and shortly after that they exited the building.
After the arson investigators began to search though the smoldering remains of the restaurant they found the safe. They had determined that the safe was damaged by someone attempting to open it. The investigators then determined who had been at the restaurant working the night before and came up with a name of a 15 year old assistant manager. The boy was brought to the scene and was able to provide information about his part in the burglary.
Three men were allegedly involved with the actual break-in. They were arrested by HFD arson that same morning. The youth that was the restaurant assistant manager was charged with burglary. His trail is set for later this year. The other three were charged with arson and murder. The trial began in August 2000 and lasted about three weeks. The three young men were found guilty of felony murder and arson. They received prison sentences ranging from 17 years to 35 years.
The five days following the fire.
After the morning of the fire, the Fire Chief’s Staff and the Fire Fighters Union began feverishly organizing a memorial service for both fire fighters which was soon set for Friday, February 18 at 10:00 am. The service was held at Rice Stadium. A call to the off duty shift for volunteers was sent out. A large number of fire fighters, their relatives and friends came to the call. All of these volunteers were quickly organized to begin planning for the memorial services. The volunteers began getting transportation and supplies, getting groups of fire fighters to the airports to greet fire fighters from all over the country, and getting a group to Rice Stadium to prepare it for the service.
Early Friday morning the membership of the Houston Fire Department met at Rice Stadium where they were shuttled to the Mecom Fountain. They were met by hundreds of fire fighters from other departments. From there, they started their journey to Rice Stadium. Once all personnel were in their seats, the memorial service began.
The funeral service and burial for Lewis was later that afternoon. The service was held at Christ the Good Shepherd, and he was put to rest in Memorial Oaks Cemetery.
The funeral service for Kim took place Saturday morning. A funeral mass was held at St. Michael’s Catholic Church. After the service, her family, friends, and a large group of fire fighters began the journey to Refugio, Texas where she was laid to rest in the family plot between her grandmother and grandfather. On the three-hour journey, they were greeted by the fire departments, police departments and citizens from each town they passed through.