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Family of dead woman questions design of Durham apartment

Posted April 29, 2013

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— A Durham woman might have escaped a fire Friday if her apartment had a back exit, family and neighbors said Monday, but city officials said the apartment met building codes.

Karen Timberman, 49, died Sunday night at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

Timberman was trapped in her apartment at Yester Oaks Apartments, at 936 Morreene Road, when the entire front of her apartment went up in flames Friday evening.

Her son said she barricaded herself in the bathroom, blocking the space under the door with wet towels, and called 911. By the time firefighters were able to pull her from the apartment, she had lost consciousness and had suffered burns on more than 35 percent of her body.

Her family and other Yester Oaks residents questioned the safety of the apartment complex. Her apartment lacked a rear door and windows because it backed up to other units.

Timberman's ex-husband, Bob Timberman, called the apartment a fire trap. He is in the construction industry and said she would have survived if she had a way out.

Durham apartment fire Durham inspector says site of fire met building codes

Jacquis Bullock, who lives two doors down from Timberman's unit, agrees.

"You are essentially trapped. There is no exit through the back," Bullock said. "If there was a second exit or entry way, I am pretty sure that she would have been able to get out of that door."

Gene Bradham, director of Durham's City-County Inspections Department, said building codes require only one door and a window in each bedroom to escape, which Karen Timberman's apartment had.

"I think they should change that. I really do," Bullock said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU May 2, 2013

    Mrs.DarylDixon said, "The rear door was not boarded up, there simply was NO rear door."

    Yes, thank you. This is the point that I'm making...that the *adult* tenant knew what she was getting into and lived this reality day after day after day...

    So, unless the landlord boarded up a second door while the tenant slept, how can someone else remove the "it only had one exit" responsibility from the tenant?

    We all understand that the family is hurting and not happy. But, this woman (and the tenants who continue to live in these apartments after this fire) have made an adult decision to live with just one exit. Whose risk is that, but their own?

  • rescuedfireman May 1, 2013

    Did you ever think that having fire sprinklers in the apartments might have saved her life?
    In approximately 98% of all residential fires in building with residential fire sprinklers, no lives were lost. In most instances where a fire starts in a sprinklered building, only 1 or 2 sprinkler heads activate to control the fire, giving occupants time to escape the building.

  • Mrs.DarylDixon Apr 30, 2013

    "But, did apartment management board up the rear door while she slept, just before the fire started?" - JustOneGodLessThanU

    The rear door was not boarded up, there simply was NO rear door. the back of the apartment shared a wall with the back of another apartment on the opposite side of the building. that's why no windows.

  • ncmickey Apr 30, 2013

    Makes you think about the fire trap areas in your own dwelling. If there was a fire in the stair well we would be trapped to the second floor, third in the back. I'm thinking of getting an escape ladder.
    Make sure your smoke alarms work!! Get a couple fire extinguishers. Plan your escape route.
    Can you tell me dad was a fireman? We used to have drills....

  • jdupree Apr 30, 2013

    The apartment was built to code, she had a chance to look it over and decided to rent it. She made a decision! If a rapist had broken in through a back door, they would complain about security. The real culprit is the source of the fire, human or accidental.

  • LovemyPirates Apr 30, 2013

    As an occupant of a house or apartment, you have to take responsibility to notice these types of issues. Where are the exits? How would I get out in case of an emergency? Is there easy access to escape? Would I be blocked in an emergency?
    Old houses, apartments and buildings weren't built to current standards and are often "grandfathered".

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 30, 2013

    Imagine if there were *no* regulations, as one political party wants.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 30, 2013

    This is so sad. She was a fighter. But, did apartment management board up the rear door while she slept, just before the fire started?

    I mean, she's an adult who inspected the apt before she moved in and, presumably, after her experienced ex-husband told her it was a "fire trap", yet she continued to live there day after day.

    What about the people who still live there and hear this news story? Would it still be someone else's fault if this happened to them?

  • Tray Cee Apr 30, 2013

    @Country Girlz Have MORE fun - The article says that they do pass building code. This is tragic but you can't build homes or buildings that will save people in every situation.

  • justcommonsense Apr 30, 2013

    It's interesting that some many apartments in NC are built in this manner. Every apartment I rented when living in Alaska had front AND back doors or windows. They were not built so as to adjoin one another front to back.