Inspection: Complex did not have extinguishers

Common areas lacked fire extinguishers; six units burned Monday

tgrubb@newsobserver.comJanuary 30, 2013 

  • Missing cat Emily Bunner and her roommate, who were left homeless by Monday’s fire at University Gardens, are still looking for their cat, Milagra. The female cat, which fled during the fire, is gray and white with medium hair. Bunner said they adopted Milagra and her brother on Sunday, so they did not have tags yet. Milagra’s brother is safe, she said. Anyone with information about the cat is asked to contact Bunner at sisipherr@gmail.com or 608-514-5533.

— An inspection Jan. 10 found no fire extinguishers in eight buildings at a Chapel Hill condominium complex where fire destroyed six units Monday morning, fire officials said Tuesday.

Fifteen residents were left homeless, but no one was injured.

An extinguisher would not have helped Monday because no one was home in the unit where the fire started, fire officials said.

The fire started in the bedroom of A-14, a second-floor condo, and spread up a wall to the front window and attic, Deputy Fire Marshal John Parker said. Ten people were still in the building when he arrived Monday, he said.

Officials need to complete their investigation before determining the cause, Interim Fire Marshal Dace Bergen said.

Residents returned to the Pritchard Avenue Extension complex to collect their belongings Tuesday.

Parker sent a letter Tuesday to the complex owners about the January inspection and the violation. The report recommended installing 32 extinguishers to meet the state’s Fire Code, which requires fire extinguishers in the common areas of multifamily buildings.

Bergen said the condo owners were not notified until this week. That’s not unusual when there are multiple owners, he said. The department often ends up working with the homeowners association, he said.

He said he was not aware of any other violations at the complex.

Parker said there has been a lot of turnover and other changes in the department over the years that may have allowed the lack of fire extinguishers in common areas to fall through the cracks before. The complex is in his inspection district now.

Eric Plow, president of the University Gardens Homeowners Association, said there are fire extinguishers in each of his condos in Building A, and all of them were charged and working, he said. His lease requires tenants to report extinguishers that are not working, and they also check them between tenants, he said.

Parker said they did find working fire extinguishers in some condos after the fire, but they still should be in common stairways and foyers. Fire extinguishers also should be checked every year by a professional, he said.

Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, who works for condo owner Empowerment Inc., said the nonprofit’s basement condo had water damage. It does not have a fire extinguisher, he said.

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

Resident Emily Bunner and her roommate lost nearly everything Tuesday, including their female cat, Milagra, who fled during the fire. 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.”

Plow said most residents did not have renter’s insurance. Some are staying with friends and family, while others have moved into vacant units at the complex, Estes Park Apartments in Carrboro or rooms at University Inn, he said. The insurance companies will pay for the damaged condos, but they won’t be ready for four to six months, he said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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