Apartment Fire Kills Biloxi Woman

A fire early Sunday killed a Biloxi woman and destroyed several apartments.

The fire began around two this morning at the "Briarfield Apartments" on Briarfield Avenue.

The victim is identified as 43-year-old Fern Gaona. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The blaze also left more than a dozen residents without a place to live. They are getting shelter tonight from the American Red Cross.

The fire started in a ground level apartment but quickly spread. It took Biloxi firefighters nearly three hours to bring the blaze under control. Both buildings of the Briarfield Apartments were evacuated.

"It started on the very bottom apartment. And then after everybody evacuated and everything, it just went up in flames. But the people had a fire wall right there, so it just got everybody on this side,"  apartment resident Lynette King said.

Two men managed to escape from the apartment where the fire began. But Fern Gaona, known as "Frankie" to her friends, was not as lucky. She died of smoke inhalation in Apartment number four.

Carolyn Walters lives in the apartment building next door.

"I could see that something was on fire underneath the balcony, but I didn't realize that the apartment was on fire until one of the guys tried to go in. And when they opened the door it was just, flames were shooting out and black smoke," Walters said.

Apartment residents say they awoke to what one described as a scene of panic. They heard loud screams and then saw the flames.

The fire heavily damaged several apartments in the south building. But both Briarfield apartment buildings were evacuated.

The American Red Cross helped residents find shelter.

"First, make sure that we take care of the people that need a place to stay. And I think we've got all of them in a motel for food and shelter. And the needs they have, clothing and what's ever needed right away," said Red Cross Director, Bob Collins.

The cause of the fatal fire remains under investigation.