RALEIGH — Fire investigators say smoking material, perhaps a smoldering cigarette, probably caused a Friday morning apartment fire near downtown that severely injured a middle-aged man.
"He may have been smoking in bed," Raleigh Division Fire Chief Rusty Styons said Friday afternoon.
The fire was confined to a small apartment at the Pullen Park Lofts at 211 Ashe Ave.
Styons said the victim's injuries were life-threatening, though he was conscious and in stable condition when emergency workers rushed him to the hospital. In addition to significant burns to his arms and legs, the man, whose name has not been released, also had respiratory injuries, Styons said.
"The heat damaged his lungs," he said. "There could be swelling later and inflammation. It's a significant issue."
Firefighters pulled the man, who appeared to be in his 50s, from a 400-square-foot apartment. He was later transferred to the burn center at UNC Hospitals, Styons said.
The fire was reported at 8:49 a.m. Firefighters arrived just before 9 a.m. and had the fire under control in about five minutes.
"There was only minor structural damage," Styons said. "The walls were scorched."
Firefighters found a badly burned mattress and box spring just behind the front door. The man was on the stairwell of the apartment, but Styons said investigators do not know whether he was going up or down the stairs that led to a small loft used for sleeping.
"It's a small place," Styons said. "It's about the size of a college dorm room."
Firefighters pulled the burned mattress and box spring from the apartment. The box spring was completely charred, and only about 25 percent of the mattress appeared to be unburned, Styons said.
Neighbors stood in front of their apartments as police strung yellow caution tape around the units. They quietly watched and listened for any information.
Pierre Nealy and Dominic Drake heard that one of their neighbor's arms and legs had been burned in the fire but said they did not know the man.
"Somebody else who lives out here said she called 911 after she smelled something like wire burning," Nealy said.
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