Raleigh fire investigators seeking cause of weekend apartment fire

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comAugust 26, 2013 

— Investigators still don’t know what caused a massive fire that destroyed a 30-unit apartment building in northwest Raleigh on Saturday evening.

The fire in the Camden Crest Apartments off Grove Barton Road was reported at 6:36 p.m. Saturday. It was declared under control at 8 p.m., but firefighters continued to pour water on the building well into the night.

No residents were injured, but two Raleigh firefighters were hospitalized with elevated heart rates due to exertion, said Division Chief Ronny Mizell.

The fire appeared to have started on the top floor of the four-story, wood-frame building, Mizell said.

An apartment spokeswoman said Monday that 29 households were displaced by the fire. The Triangle Red Cross had met with 19 of them – about 37 people – by early Monday afternoon and anticipated meeting with six more, said Tracie Brown, the agency’s associate regional emergency medical services director.

Brown said the building was home to mostly college students and working couples. She knew of only one apartment where children lived.

The Red Cross handed out food and drink to the displaced residents before distributing debit cards for hotel costs, cash for their immediate needs and medication assistance at local pharmacies for residents whose prescription medications had been lost in the fire. The agency also handed out gift cards Monday to help with clothing.

Leonard Windham, an IT employee who has lived at the damaged building for nearly two years, was watching a comedy on television with his girlfriend and her child when the smoke alarm in the apartment went off.

“I came outside and saw fire in the back of the building on the third floor,” Windham said. “I ran back inside and told my girlfriend and her daughter to get their shoes on. ‘There’s a fire. Let’s get out of here.’”

Windham and other residents who fled the burning building wondered why firefighters waited instead of immediately aiming their fire hoses toward the fire.

“In 10 minutes everywhere on the third floor was in flames. There was an explosion and fire burst through the roof,” he said. “I asked a policeman, ‘Why are they taking so long before putting out the fire?’ He said they wanted to make sure everyone got out.”

The smell of smoke was still in the air near the building Monday. The fire did its heaviest damage on the two top floors, where it left charred, blackened wood, melted vinyl siding and shattered windows.

The fire was so hot and intense that it buckled the vinyl siding on another building about 75 feet away.

“There’s a double wall in between each unit, but the fire got so hot it burned right through it,” said Jeff McGrath, a general superintendent with the Cary Reconstruction Company in Apex, which restores properties that have been damaged by fire, smoke, wind and water.

McGrath and Jose Nieves, a CRC foreman, spent Monday securing the building by not allowing anyone inside.

“You can see that the building is not sound,” McGrath said.

When firefighters released the building to the apartment management company Sunday, CRC workers escorted burned-out residents to units on the first and ground floors that mostly endured water damage.

“Now it’s too dangerous,” McGrath said Monday. “The ceilings are starting to droop from the water. That water has got to go somewhere.”


McDonald: 919-829-4533

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