Image: Texas homeless shelter fire
Matt Slocum  /  AP
A firefighter looks out from a fire-damaged portion of a homeless shelter on  Monday in Paris, Texas.
updated 1/5/2009 4:41:55 PM ET 2009-01-05T21:41:55

Fire tore through a small-town homeless shelter early Monday, partially collapsing the building and killing five men, fire officials said.

The cause of the blaze had not been determined. Residents tried to fight the flames with pans of water.

Fire Chief Ronnie Grooms confirmed that five men died in the blaze at the shelter run by Seed Sowers Christians in Action.

"It's just really a tragedy," said Don Walker, who runs the nonprofit group but wasn't at the 42-bed shelter when the fire broke out. "It's just some homeless guys that really cared about me and I cared about them."

Grooms said an alarm sounded at about 3 a.m. The fire lasted for three or four hours and partially collapsed the roof.

"It just blowed up so quick," Walker said.

The blaze started in a storeroom, but officials hadn't determined the cause, Grooms said. The group recycles cardboard and newspapers at the site to pay for the shelter and soup kitchen, but Walker said the fire didn't spread to the area where recyclables were being sorted.

Several men who were in the shelter said they woke up and saw a large fire on a table where donated clothes were stacked to be sorted.

"It went fast," said Roger Riemer, 49, who had lived at the shelter since September. "There was quite a few people trying to get it out, but it didn't work. It was just getting too hot. Smoke was billowing out of there so bad. There was nothing we could do."

'They were all good guys'
Riemer said he awoke to three loud pops, then grabbed a fire extinguisher while other men ran to the kitchen to get pans of water to throw on the flames.

Carlton Moore, 41, said he had to crawl out of the building.

"The smoke got intense real quick," he said. "All I could see was smoke."

There were 28 men at the shelter — where men stayed in 10-by-10 rooms — when the fire broke out, Walker said.

"I worked with them every day," he said. "They were all good guys — every one."

Walker said the shelter had had fire drills.

According to the group's Web site, Seed Sowers Christians in Action relies on contributions and its recycling to provide services to the homeless and low-income people and provides meals five days a week. It also operates a smaller shelter for women and children at a different location.

Paris is about 100 miles northeast of Dallas.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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