Local News

Firefighters pluck two from burning building

Posted October 22, 2009

— Firefighters rescued two people trapped on a third-floor balcony from a fire that displaced dozens of residents from SunStone Apartments in Chapel Hill early Thursday.

Residents rescued from Chapel Hill apartment fire Two plucked from burning apartment building

A resident at 208 Conner Drive smelled smoke on a lower balcony and called 911 at 4:32 a.m., said Lisa Edwards, a spokeswoman for the Chapel Hill Fire Department.

Thirty-three people and several pets got out of the building safely, but smoke and intense flames kept two from getting out their front door, Edwards said. Firefighters ran a ladder up to their balcony and got them out.

James Howard, a junior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said he and a visiting friend, William Fisher, were woken by the smoke alarm.

"I really wasn't sure what was going on," Fisher said. "Whenever I popped open the door, there was flames all outside the hall."

The apartment across from them was engulfed in flames, but they decided to run for it, the men said. Between them, they were wearing boxers, gym shorts, flip flops and a jacket and carrying one cell phone.

"(The fire) has started to come towards my apartment and the ceiling, too. I guess the corridor was already on fire, and we just ran under it," Howard said.

The men suffered minor burns while escaping.

Twelve of the 24 units in the building had extensive damage, and the remainder were also rendered uninhabitable, Edwards said. The back side of the building was mostly gutted.

Firefighters from Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham and New Hope worked together to douse the blaze. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries, Edwards said.

Red Cross officials said they were helping between 40 and 50 displaced people find food and shelter.

Howard had to call his roommate, who was at home for fall break.

"I tried not to freak him out. I told him there was a fire, and we might need to move," Howard said.

Investigators are looking into reports that the fire started on a balcony, Edwards said. The cause of the fire hasn't been determined.

The apartment building, which is part of a larger complex, did not have sprinklers.

Fisher recalled his losses – "laptop, bookbag, some school work" – and counted himself as "lucky to be alive."

"I feel grateful, I guess, most of all," he said.


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  • fireguy Oct 23, 2009

    Seankelly15 - It was a good job because 3 units were a total loss. That means that 21 other units may have water damage or smoke damage but gues what, Those people can still salvage all there personal items. I guess if your house was on fire in one room, The fire Dept. Should just let the whole house burn down because its all the same to you. And on top of that, The fire department does a good job when they show up in the middle of the night when everyone else is sleeping, Puts out a fire, AND NO ONE GETS HURT!!!!!! Safety is the most important thing not the Apartments or the cars or the personal property. LIFE. Everything else saved is just a bonus. Thats what Insurance is for. SO YES YOU ARE MISSING SOMETHING, THE BIG PICTURE. GOOD JOB GUYS. FTM-PTB

  • cmbmg Oct 23, 2009

    While the people who responded to fire did a great job, the property management (SunStone and Campus Advantage) acted poorly. The property management should have taken steps to prevent this fire from happening. Installing up to date fire protection systems, not allowing people to park in fire lanes and properly maintaining the property are just a few that would have been a huge help. However, they choose to spend money on planting new flowers and re-surfacing the pool.

  • boolittlek Oct 22, 2009

    I lived at this complex 10-12 years ago. I'm glad I moved to a place with sprinklers.

  • Professor Oct 22, 2009

    A hero he is. Thanks

  • a change of heart Oct 22, 2009

    Sorry you had a bad experience, benskins26. It was about 10 years ago that I lived there, so it's entirely possible that in the intervening decade, the property may have changed hands, management, etc. I'll say that when I lived there, it was a good place to live.

  • thinkbeforeyoublab Oct 22, 2009

    seankelly15 - I'll answer for fireguy. It was good work by the firefighters because people were rescued and evacuated and when they arrived the fire was put out quickly. It was good work because had they not performed as such the fire possibly would have caused more injuries and maybe death. Light weight wood construction burns fast and collapses quick. Lives were saved and neighboring buildings not burned. If there wasn't a good work performed then lives could have been lost and more property destroyed. The fire had already damaged the building before they arrived, but when they arrived they stopped it from spreading. Great Job to all who responded (CHFD, Carrboro A-Shift & All Mutual aid).

  • Heavensent Oct 22, 2009

    You guys could have came up with a better titled story line. How about "Firefighters Save Two From Burning Building?"

  • seankelly15 Oct 22, 2009

    fireguy - Am I missing something? According to the story, all units were either destroyed or are uninhabitable. What was the 'good job’ that you refer to?

  • benskins26 Oct 22, 2009

    I used to live here, in fact I just moved out a couple months ago, and it is NOT one of the better managed complexes. Im glad that the residents and pets got out ok. But the property manager here is one of the worst people I've ever come across. Bad karma.

  • bikinibare Oct 22, 2009

    OMG,,,,,"PLUCKED"??????? lmao