A blazing apartment fire that may have started from kids playing with matches left more than a dozen families without a home Thursday night.
About 6 p.m., calls came in to 911 about a fire at the Brandon Glen Apartment complex off Eastview Road near Sigman Road.
About eight units out of an 18-unit building were burned or completely destroyed, with other units sustaining smoke or water damage. All the residents inside escaped and no one was reported injured.
On one side of the building, nothing but charred, skeletal rafters and walls remained of the top floor apartments.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, said Deputy Fire Chief Joel Yoder. But several residents say a few unsupervised young children, about 8 to 10 years old, were playing with matches or candles on the back deck of one of the second floor apartments.
Resident James Moss had just returned from his job with a tree service company to his elderly mother's apartment where he lives. He said he heard the fire alarms going off. "Someone came saying ‘My back porch is on fire.'" He grabbed a fire extinguisher and headed upstairs to try and put it out. But fire had already started growing. Moss gave up trying to fight the fire and began getting his mother out of the building to safety.
Tyra Davenport, 16, was outside when the fire started. She said she saw what looked like sparks at first, and smoke, so she began banging on doors to alert people and get them out. While Moss was upstairs trying to put out the fire on the deck, Davenport began assisting Moss's elderly mother, who uses a walker. But the fire grew very large very quickly. By the time Davenport, Moss, and Moss's mother made it outside, thick, black smoke and flames were pouring out the side of the building.
Samuel Edwards' apartment was one of those burned to a crisp. Edwards was home at the time watching television when he heard kids running through the breezeway saying there was a fire. At first he thought they were playing; then he saw smoke starting to fill the breezeway.
Edwards' partner Tommy Johnston was at work at AutoZone at the time. When he got the call, he drove home, "like I was on fire," he said. All their belongings, including antique family furniture and electronics, were destroyed. Johnston said ruefully he had just finished drying a load of laundry when he left for work at noon that day.
The sprinkler system did not go off during the fire, said Edwards. However, Yoder pointed out the fire started outside in the back and had spread into the attic - both areas out of reach of the existing sprinkler system. The apartment, because of when it was built, was not required to have an attic sprinkler system said Yoder.
Other residents, such as Shuntay Knox who lives across the street, described how quickly the fire spread. There was no fire when she went to get her mail. A minute later, she heard banging on the door and saw the apartment up in flames.
When firefighters arrived, at least half the building was involved, said Yoder. It took about 45 minutes to bring the fire under control. About six engines responded.
Red Cross representatives were at the scene interviewing families.
While no one agency or person is coordinating efforts to help the families, Red Cross representatives said they would try and put anyone who wanted to help the families in touch with the families themselves. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Rockdale Emergency Relief said families who have been affected by the fire can come to RER with a copy of the fire report next week for food from the food pantry and vouchers for clothes from the clothes closet. For more information, call 770-922-0165.