Investigators think Durham apartment fire was arson

Fire at Durham apartment complex displaced 34 residents

abaird@newsobserver.comSeptember 2, 2012 

— A fire that left a building in the Springfield Apartments on University Drive without a roof and severe damage throughout is being investigated as arson, the Durham Fire Department said Saturday.

Deputy Fire Chief Dan Curia said no residents were injured in the Friday fire, which started around 3:30 p.m., but two firefighters were taken to a hospital where they were treated and released. Thirty-four residents were displaced by the blaze.

Curia said investigators believe arson was the cause, but he had no information about why. Investigators pinpointed the apartment where the fire started, he said.

Mike Zytnik, 58, a Springfield resident for six years, said residents in the complex are shocked but fortunate.

“It really hits you when you see the roof gone, everything burnt, just across the parking lot from my home,” Zytnik said. “But it could have been a lot worse. Imagine if this happened at night.”

Each of the building’s 18 apartments was damaged or destroyed by fire, smoke or water damage, Curia said.

On Saturday, the three-story building, even from behind the bright yellow tape that formed a perimeter around the property, made obvious the damage: Once-green siding was scorched black, everything inside had turned to ash, and up to the roof everything appeared burnt beyond salvage.

The Red Cross responded to the complex Friday night with clothing and food, according to spokeswoman Emily Everett, and the group has arranged lodging through Tuesday at local hotels and vacant apartments for the 16 affected families. The group will return to the complex Tuesday to meet with families needing further assistance.

Everett said volunteers converged on the site on short notice, even with 30-something Triangle-area Red Cross members dispatched to help in recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Isaac and other North Carolina chapters preparing for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

“Even with a lot of people deployed, we’re fortunate to have the capability to respond to local needs like this,” said Everett.

Zytnik said the Red Cross response and steps taken by property management made the best of a bad situation.

There was pizza in the apartment’s community center. Everyone had somewhere to sleep Friday night. People and pets were all taken care of.

“The response wasn’t just good,” said Zytnik. “It was awesome.”

Staff writer Craig Jarvis contributed.

Baird: 919-829-4696

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