Deadly Fire Guts Bhojan Restaurant, Southwest Inn Motel, Kills Four

Photos: Parth Dwivedi

Photos: Parth Dwivedi

By Parth Dwivedi

HOUSTON: I had to head toward downtown last Friday afternoon, so I took the ramp onto the Southwest Freeway going North, and hit traffic as far South as Bissonnet. I figured someone must have gotten into an accident an exit up and sat tight, eventually getting lost in my thoughts. I had no idea traffic would not start clearing up until I got to the exit for Hillcroft, and when it did, that the entire building housing the Southwest Inn and Bhojan Restaurant would be completely gone. I would find out later that a fire was responsible for destroying them, along with much, much more.

Houston Fire Department Chief Terry Garrison said, “We arrived on the scene and about 14 minutes after our arrival we had a mayday.” Over 150 firefighters from at least 60 units responded to control the five-alarm fire over the course of roughly two hours. Initially five firefighters were transported to the hospital for heat exhaustion and other critical injuries.

On Saturday, HFD confirmed that 14 firefighters were transported to the hospital, one in critical condition and another needing to undergo surgery. The rest had stabilized, however, and several had already been released. Unfortunately, it was also clear that four firefighters had lost their lives while combing the burning building for civilians, when the roof collapsed, fatally trapping them.


Killed in the fire from Station 51 were Capt. Matthew Renaud, 35, a serviceman of 11 years, and Engineer Operator Robert Bebee, 41, a 12-year veteran.  Firefighter Robert Garner, 29, who had joined about two years ago, and Anne Sullivan, 24, a probationary firefighter who had just graduated from the Houston Fire Department Academy in April, both were from Station 68. Jack Sullivan told the Associated Press that he tried to talk his daughter out of going into such a dangerous line of work, but “she had her heart set at [being a firefighter].”

A public memorial service for the four victims was to be held Wednesday at the Reliant Stadium, expecting upwards of 40,000 people in solidarity from across the nation.

The death toll from Friday’s conflagration was the worst ever recorded in HFD history, and both they and the heroes’ families are forced to cope with the mournful reality.

HFD said taking the risk was a necessary protocol, due to the possibility of people being trapped inside the building-turned-furnace. “[The motel] was open to the public and it was normal business hours. That is enough to generate the need to go in and make a primary rapid search to ensure everybody is out,” Fire Captain, Ruy Lozano said.

Having interviewed about 100 people, Deputy Fire Chief Ed Arthur said, “we’re exhausting almost every investigator in our division.” From 20 to 30 people are working at the fire scene at any given time, going through debris, and while he expects the search of the scene to take about 10 days, a report of the findings would not be coming for months down the line.


HFD had already been keeping firefighter safety in mind, as per several top priority provisions to improve firefighter safety in its most recent Strategic Plan (which are available to the public and can be viewed at  In accordance with their stated goal to continuously evolve to meet society’s needs, Lozano assured that HFD will find out what happened to prevent it from ever happening again.

According to Arthur, no conclusive cause has been delineated, but the source has been narrowed, “we’re trying to work ourselves in and trying to hone in on certain areas where there is the most fire damage. And right now, we’re focusing on an area in and around the area above the kitchen.” Presence of heavy fire in the structure’s attic is of interest, as it is likely where the blaze initially accelerated. Engineers are also ascertaining if there was a sprinkler system, as well as the building’s roof-remodeling history.

The Houston Fire Department Arson Division, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Houston Police Department are currently examining the building. No evidence of arson has come up, but the possibility is still being considered seriously, “we are treating this as a criminal investigation, so we can’t rule that out at this time,” Arthur said.