Cigarette blamed for Morrisville apartment building fire that made 24 homeless

rgallagher@newsobserver.comMay 15, 2014 

— Red Cross workers arranged housing for 24 people Wednesday night in the wake of a Morrisville apartment building fire that initially drove 48 people from their units and was blamed on a discarded cigarette.

The afternoon fire in the Bexley Park apartments in a building on Autumn Day Drive brought firefighters and trucks from the Morrisville, Cary and Durham fire departments and affected 22 units with fire, smoke or water damage or loss of power because that had to be shut off for firefighters’ and residents’ safety, town officials and Red Cross spokeswoman Lu Esposito said.

Thanks to quick damage and safety assessments by firefighters, Esposito said, the complex was allowed to restore power to all but nine apartments later Wednesday and residents returned.

The fire broke out on the third floor of the three-story structure, and Morrisville town spokeswoman Stephanie Smith said Thursday that firefighters believed it was started by a discarded cigarette on an apartment balcony.

No injuries were reported.

Firefighters said an attic fire stop helped keep the blaze from spreading.

Esposito said it would not be unusual for the Triangle Red Cross chapter to have to house 48 people in a week in the region, but handling that many people from one incident is not unlike handling a weather disaster.

“We can do that really easily in the matter of a week or of a few days,” Esposito said, but having to help numbers like those forced form apartments at once requires calculating the most efficient way to allocate donated funds.

If all 48 people had needed shelter, the Red Cross might have opted to open a shelter for them, Esposito explained.

When the situation involves eight or nine families, finding shelter more often involves working with the residents’ apartment complex or other complexes to identify vacant units or placing people in hotels that have negotiated rates for the aid agency.

“Every disaster is different,” Esposito said.

The overarching goal is to make people’s stay in temporary housing “as short as possible” because the Red Cross wants to “empower them to take control of their own recovery.”

That, Esposito said, is a critical “part of the emotional recovery” from any disaster.

Gallagher: 919-829-4572

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