Chapel Hill fire destroys six apartments

Fire officials still seeking cause in blaze that left 15 homeless

tgrubb@newsobserver.comJanuary 29, 2013 

  • How to help To aid residents displaced by Monday’s fire, contact the Central North Carolina Red Cross Chapter in Durham at 919-489-6542. Residents especially need permanent housing and furniture.

— An inspection earlier this month found there were no fire extinguishers in eight buildings at University Gardens condominiums, officials reported Tuesday.

Six units in Building A were destroyed and three damaged Monday in a mid-morning fire on Pritchard Avenue Extension. Fifteen residents were displaced, but fire spokeswoman Lisa Edwards said no one was injured.

The fire appeared to have started in the attic, Edwards said. The fire damage was limited to the upper floor on the southern end of the building. Other units suffered smoke and water damage.

Fire officials are still determining the cause of the fire, Edwards said.

Deputy Fire Marshall John Parker sent a letter to the complex owners Tuesday about the Jan. 10 violation. The report recommended the owners install a total of 32 extinguishers mounted in wall brackets.

Eric Plow, president of the University Gardens Homeowners Association, said his apartments in Building A, where the fire started Monday, have fire extinguishers inside each unit. He didn’t know about the fire inspections report, he said.

“We feel one in each unit is better” than in a common foyer, he said.

All the fire extinguishers were charged and working when Plow said he checked them Monday and took photos. His lease requires tenants to report extinguishers that are not working, and they also check them between tenants, he said.

The extinguisher probably wouldn’t have helped, because the resident in the apartment where the fire started had left about 10 minutes earlier, he said.

Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, who works with Empowerment Inc., said he heard about the inspection letter Monday from a fire official at the complex. The official told him it had been written but not sent to the owners yet.

Empowerment owns a basement unit that suffered water damage, he said. It does not have a fire extinguisher, but Chilton said that likely wouldn’t have made a difference.

Fire officials were not immediately available for comment.

Red Cross officials are helping with clothing, food and temporary shelter, but the residents will need permanent housing and furniture, they said.

Many of the residents did not have renter’s insurance, Plow said. Some of them are staying with friends and family, he said. A couple have moved into vacant units at the complex, and Estes Park Apartments in Carrboro and University Inn also have offered to help, he said. Plow said the insurance companies will cover the damage to the building, but it could take four to six months to make them habitable.

Resident Emily Bunner said Tuesday that she and her partner were still looking for their female cat, Milagra. The gray and white, medium-hair cat was adopted Sunday and did not have tags yet, Bunner said.

“We are still searching the neighborhood frantically,” she said. “Her brother is safe, but I’d do anything to have her back.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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