ATF helping with fire investigation in Gilbert

Posted at 5:51 PM, Apr 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-25 23:20:58-04

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents are now helping the Gilbert Fire Department in their investigation of a 5-alarm fire that destroyed an apartment complex under construction near Gilbert and Warner Roads on Saturday.

Firefighters say the ATF is assisting in the investigation, simply because of the scope of the fire.

The site of the fire backs up to a subdivision and apartment complex, and dozens of people had to evacuate as the fire, smoke and flying embers threatened their homes. 

As the Johnsons rushed to get out of their home when the raging inferno broke out behind their backyard, firefighters rushed to get inside their home.

"The hose actually ran completely through the house, so it ran from the front door all the way through to the back door," said homeowner Shawn Johnson. 

Their home happened to be the most direct route from the fire hydrant to the fire.

Firefighters broke down part of their brick wall in the backyard to get the hose across.

The radiant heat melted everything in its way.

"The radiant heat was unbelievable. I was unaware of how much damage just that radiant heat could actually do," Johnson said. 

WATCH: Video from Air15 above the raging Gilbert fire

The path from the five-alarm fire to his backyard was also torched as the heat melted the asphalt on part of Civic Center Drive. 

Now his backyard is a melted, mangled mess. The power of the heat even reached his truck parked in the driveway.

"The heat that was coming off the fire--it was burning the back of my arms as I'm running down the street," Johnson said. 

As investigators sifting through the damage, these homeowners are doing the same in their own backyard.

"Rebuild--that's all we can do," Johnson said. 

Monday morning, staff from Gilbert's Public Works Department assessed the damage to the road, the sidewalk, a bus shelter, and street lights. 

They don't know yet how much longer the section of Civic Center Drive in front of the site of the fire will stay closed.