RALEIGH — Geraldine Sanders was on the phone with her sister Friday afternoon when she heard someone yelling outside the apartment building where she lives near N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus.
When she looked out the window of her second-floor apartment, a neighbor, Robbin Byrd, yelled up at her: “Ma’am, it’s a fire! Get out!”
Sanders wrapped her 3-year-old niece in a blanket and grabbed the hand of her 10-year-old son, opened the door of her unit and was met by a plume of dark smoke.
Sanders clutched her niece close to her chest and told her son, Hezikiah, to run. The woman and children made their way through a maze of smoke and finally got outside where a woman grabbed her niece from her arms.
“I was coughing so bad I almost passed out,” Sanders said.
Four people were injured, including a Raleigh police officer, and 43 others were left homeless after a fire in a first floor apartment at the three-story, Mission Valley Apartments on Avent Ferry Road near Centennial Parkway.
The four people who suffered smoke inhalation were taken to WakeMed and Rex Hospital, said Raleigh Fire Division Chief Ronny Mizell. The fire was caused by a resident smoking in bed, Mizell said late Friday.
The Red Cross arrived to provide assistance for the displaced residents. A fire official announced that some of the residents who lived in apartments on the second and third floors would be able to return home by the night’s end. A nearby Burger King offered free food and a place for residents to stay warm after a winter storm brought a frigid mix of snow, ice and freezing rain.
Emergency operators were alerted at 4:18 p.m. Firefighters had the blaze under control just before 5 p.m., a spokesman with the city’s emergency communications center said.
The police officer was helping evacuate the building, Mizell said. Firefighters went through the 57-unit building, knocking on doors to make sure everyone got out.
Mizell said some of the people hurt were in the apartment where fire broke out. He said flames had traveled up a wall in the first-floor apartment and had also caused exterior damage to the second and third floor apartments just above the unit.
Jerry Teter’s face was covered in black soot as he stood inside the Burger King. Teter said he had just finished washing dishes and had popped open a beer when he heard glass breaking. He grabbed his beer and cigarettes and opened the door to a hallway consumed by smoke.
Teter, who has lived at the apartment building for nearly nine years, said he assisted a woman who lived in the apartment where the fire started.
“I went outside. Then I heard voices and went back in,” he said. “I saw her coming up the steps. She didn’t have on no shoes, no coat and no socks. I helped her up the steps.”
Paul Carrington and his fiancée, Miara Warren, who is three months pregnant with twins, managed to escape through their first-floor apartment window.
Warren, 20, said she was resting in bed when Carrington heard a faint, beeping noise. When Warren got up and opened the front door, black smoke rushed into the first-floor apartment.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Carrington went over to the apartment window and forced it open. He helped his fiancée get out of the building, then he crawled out behind her.
“The whole apartment got flooded last week after the pipes burst,” Warren said. “It just never ends.”