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Two fires rip through Durham townhouses, displacing dozens

Posted April 28, 2015

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— More than two dozen people were displaced from their homes early Tuesday after two fires damaged several townhouses in Durham, authorities said.

Durham firefighters initially responded to the Seven Oaks Townhomes complex, at 229 Rippling Stream Road, at about 10 p.m. Monday to extinguish a fire caused by cooking grease. Crews brought the fire under control and left the neighborhood at about 12:15 a.m., but the fire re-ignited at about 1 a.m., according to neighbors.

"At that point, I knew something wasn't right," resident Benson Deravil said. "I kept saying it might flare back up later on because they didn't go up into the roof or anything."

By the time fire crews extinguished the fire for the second time, it had damaged eight units, investigators said.

Deputy Fire Chief Chris Iannuzzi said an ember from the first fire got into some damaged ventilation ductwork on the second floor and smoldered for a while before igniting the second blaze in the attic.

The department typically uses thermal imaging to check for hot spots in buildings before leaving the scene of a fire, but Iannuzzi said the equipment didn't pick up the stray ember because it was behind a wall.

"There’s something that we didn’t catch. It’s not a perfect world. We do everything we can," he said. "Some of these things hide, and most of the time, it’s rare that this happens. All fire departments struggle with it. I feel terrible when it happens."

Seven Oaks' manager said she's disappointed by the fire department's handling of the situation.

Iannuzzi says the department takes responsibility for the second fire and will learn from what happened.

"(We'll) try to uncover more things, potentially spend more time in the attic. Look at these duct situations," he said.

Red Cross officials were helping 20 adults and six children Tuesday.

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