Downtown residents displaced by Thursday’s massive fire returned home Saturday to sift through the belongings that were spared as the blazes encroached on their buildings.
They climbed darkened stairwells, guided by firefighters shining flashlights to guide them past debris and puddles. They stuffed garbage bags, suitcases and duffels with clothes and mementos and electronics they hoped still worked. They used words like “luck” and “blessings” to describe their predicament.
“I know it sounds strange to say we were blessed, but that’s how it feels,” said William Richardson, a state representative from Cumberland County who rented a condominium in the Quorum Center. “We lost property. That’s all.”
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About 250 residents from the Link Apartments and the Quorum Center came to Raleigh’s municipal center Saturday to be escorted to the two high-rise buildings near the apartment project destroyed in Thursday’s blaze. The apartment building, erected at the site of the old Greyhound Terminal, was under construction and was ruined in the fire.
Residents in the Link and Quorum Center managed to escape with no major injuries.
The cause of the fire, the most massive the city has seen in a decade, is still under investigation.
The fire roared for more than three hours, and though firefighters were able to keep it from engulfing another residential building, they couldn’t prevent all damage. The heat from the fire was so intense, windows in many units of the Link and Quorum Center shattered. And with windows shattered, smoke seeped inside. The heat triggered sprinklers to douse everything inside the buildings. Puddles remained Saturday.
“The electronics, the furniture, that’s lost. We grabbed whatever else we could,” said Jonathan Smith of Goldsboro, whose family owns a condo unit in the Quorum.
His parents bought the unit several years ago, opting for a second home in Raleigh’s urban center instead of a vacation property at the beach.
“What do you know? We didn’t want to worry about a place at the beach with all the risk of hurricanes,” Smith said.
The Link, a modern apartment building with 203 units, has drawn young professionals to the Glenwood South area in recent years. Quorum Center, which rents office space on the lower areas and hosts 37 condominium units, caters to a higher-income market of people, many of whom use the units as second homes or investments.
Though Link residents did not own their apartments, property managers required each to purchase renters’ insurance when they signed their lease.
When Sercan Yildiz moved into the Link nine months ago, he thought of the insurance as an unnecessary expense.
“Now, I just feel fortunate,” Yildiz said Saturday, resting against a suitcase filled with clothes and electronics he gathered from his apartment Saturday. Yildiz was so panicked when he saw the sky behind his apartment turn orange, he fled only with his coat and wallet Thursday night. Saturday, he rummaged for work clothes and prayed his phone and laptop would turn on once he had a chance to charge them.
Yildiz said his insurer will reimburse his hotel expense from Thursday night and will come inspect his damaged goods next week to figure out a reimbursement for losses.
Recovery crews flocked to the Link and Quorum Center on Saturday morning. Dozens of workers came to help remediate water damage caused by sprinklers and address smoke issues.
Standing water inside the buildings kept officials from restoring electricity.
Residents said they know little to nothing about when, or if, they will be able to return home.
David Myer, a resident at the Link, said the only answer he could get about returning was “a while.”
Yildiz, too, was frustrated by the lack of any sort of timetable.
“There are no definitive answers,” Yildiz said. “I think they might not know.”
Yildiz said he would continue to stay with a friend for a few days before hunting for a new apartment. He would like to return to the Link if the wait isn’t too onerous.
Richardson, who rented a condo at Quorum Center, said he had no time to waste to find other housing.
After Richardson and his wife, Barbara, filled luggage with the items they could salvage, they began exploring Raleigh to find a new place to lease. Richardson predicted it would take owners of Quorum Center quite some time to get the building back in habitable shape.
In Richardson’s unit, an 11th-floor condo that faced the fire, the blinds had melted, the floors had buckled and the paint had bubbled on the walls. The heat had blasted open the windows.
Volunteers and staff from The American Red Cross have been helping residents since Thursday. They have fed them and guided them to the resources they would need in the coming days and months. Most of the displaced had friends or family to lean on for housing; on Saturday morning, the Red Cross was able to close the temporary shelter it opened the night of the fire.
Some of the deepest needs now, Red Cross volunteer Simon-Peter Shaffer said, aren’t visible. The Red Cross brought mental health counselors to Raleigh’s municipal building Saturday to comfort any residents emotionally struggling since the fire.
“The trauma of going back into their unit. Sometimes that can feel like too much,” Shaffer said.
Community organizations and businesses are stepping forward to try to ease some of the more tangible needs of displaced residents.
Friday night, The Hibernian held a fundraiser for Raleigh firefighters. All weekend, Crank Arm Brewing is holding a clothing drive and taking donations to help those affected by the fire.
The Junior League of Raleigh made some of its office space available for businesses that have been displaced by the fire.
City officials said late Saturday that displaced residents would have another opportunity Sunday morning to retrieve belongings from the two damaged buildings.
Red Cross teams are continuing to meet residents in need at the Raleigh Municipal Building (222 W. Hargett St.) until 7 p.m. Saturday.
Locke: 919-829-8927 or @MandyLockeNews