RALEIGH — Constance Williams had planned to hunker down for the weekend in her West Raleigh apartment like thousands of other people across the Triangle who were bracing for Friday’s wintry mix.
Instead, a fire that started in Williams’ apartment late Friday afternoon left her and 20 other families displaced this weekend. Many are staying at a Super 8 motel south of downtown Raleigh, thanks to the American Red Cross.
It is unclear when the tenants will be able to return to the Mission Valley Apartments off Avent Ferry Road near N.C. State University’s Centennial campus.
Still wearing the nightshirt she had on when the fire started, Williams, 38, explained on Saturday that she had been smoking in bed when a small flame appeared on the bedding.
“In the time it took me to put water in a cup and turn back to the bed, the whole apartment was on fire,” said Williams, who works for Wells Fargo and served eight years with the National Guard.
She added: “Thank God nobody got hurt.”
Williams, who had lived in apartment 101 for three years, was one of six people transported to a hospital for smoke inhalation. Among them was a Raleigh police officer who helped evacuate the three-story building, which has 57 studio and full-size apartments.
A fire incident report indicated 36 people were displaced. Red Cross officials didn’t have a final head count Saturday, but volunteer Alan McKinney said they fed 47 people dinner on Friday night and gave emergency assistance to 21 people, from clothes to lodging, by 3 a.m. Saturday.
About 35 firefighters responded to the blaze that was reported at 4:18 p.m. Officials said the fire and smoke damaged all 19 apartments on the first floor and the apartments on the second and third floors directly above the one where the fire started.
Most of the residents who lived on the second and third floors were able to return to their apartments by Saturday morning. Workmen were already on site Saturday dealing with the damage.
Attempts to reach someone with York Properties, which owns the apartment complex, were unsuccessful Saturday.
Among the displaced residents was Betty Avery, 52, who lived at the other end of the hallway from where the fire started.
Avery, who works third shift at the Raleigh Rescue Mission, said she was trying to nap before work when she woke up to a smoky apartment. She felt the heat through her front door. She quickly got dressed.
“I made my way through that dark smoke,” Avery said. “I just thank God that I’m alive and well.”