Local News

Investigators Find Fire Cause; Burned-Out Residents Find Very Little

Posted February 23, 2007
Updated February 24, 2007

— State and local authorities combed through the remains of the Pine Knoll Townes complex for hours Friday before determining that the fire was an accident.

Residents made homeless by the fire also walked through what was—or wasn't—left of their lives in their new homes.

The investigators were able to achieve more closure than many of the residents. The officials' conclusion was that the wall of flames that ripped through the north Raleigh townhouse complex Thursday was "carelessly discarded smoking material," they said.

"Anytime you have a preventable fire, you want to say, 'They should've known better.' But we're all human," Assistant Raleigh Fire Chief Larry Stanford said.

"Everything is burnt. Everything is gone. It's terrible," resident Juanita Williams said.

Witnesses told investigators that a group of people were smoking outside one of the townhouses shortly before the fire broke out. But authorities aren't sure if those people are linked to the fire.

Stanford said no criminal charges are expected in the case.

The fire broke out Thursday afternoon at the complex, located a block west of the intersection of Old Buffaloe Road and Capital Boulevard. Twenty-seven units were destroyed and 11 more damaged by the fire, which involved at least three rows of townhouses.

Beazer Homes USA, the developer of the complex, said 20 of the units were occupied and five had been completed but were unsold.

Dozens left homeless

Firefighters escorted residents through the site so they could retrieve anything that could be salvaged.

"My home was located in the middle, where the fire was most intense, and I lost everything," resident Youthella Ivory said.

State Bureau of Investigation agents had sheets of paper with lists of house numbers. Homes not on the list were destroyed in the fire, they said.

"Basically, we lost everything -- pretty much all new furniture we put in (and) my car was burned up," resident Mike Caldwell said. "I have no identification, that's my problem. That's what we're trying to do right now. I can't get a driver's license because I have no identification."

David Rowe spent two hours sifting through the ashes.

"It's tragic, heartbreaking," Rowd said. "Childhood memories, every memory you've ever had just burned to the ground. Words cannot describe it."

The American Red Cross is assisting 72 people in 29 families that were affected by the fire. Ironically, one of the units heavily damaged belongs to a Red Cross board member.

Nancy Raybon of the Red Cross said many of the residents are still in shock.

"(They're) staring straight ahead, concerned, not knowing what happened," Raybon said. "Put yourself in that position -- that you've lost your home and you can't see what it looks like, so you don't know."

Resident Andrea Marks said the confusion caused by the massive fire has been unnerving.

"Not knowing if your unit is one of the units that's been destroyed was frustrating and scary," Marks said. "We were hearing all kinds of stories. People were saying, 'This side of the road. That side of the road,' and you're trying to figure out where yours is at."

"It looks like I have some water damage, but mine thankfully didn't burn down," resident Lamara Williams-Hackett said.

Crossroads Fellowship Church is collecting clothing and household items for families who lost their homes or belongings in the townhouse fire. The drop-off location is at the church located at 2721 Millbrook Road in Raleigh, on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Monday from 9 a.m. to noon. There will also be a dinner for the displaced families on Monday night.

"Largest fire I've ever seen"

About 150 firefighters battled the fire for more than an hour, using 31 pieces of equipment and hundreds of gallons of water per minute to douse the flames.

The flames jumped 40 yards into the sky and created a smoke plume that stretched for about 200 yards, authorities said.

"What I saw on fire was the probably the largest fire I've ever seen, and then I eventually realized that was only half of what was burning, which made it that much more spectacular," said Capt. Keith Wilder of the Raleigh Fire Department.

"Having been a firefighter for 12 years, this was absolutely the largest collection of fire apparatus I had ever seen," Lt. Brandon Gayle said.

The flames were fanned by winds that reached 30 to 40 mph, which authorities said made the fire difficult to control, because embers were blown over fire walls separating the units.

"This is the largest fire I've seen with the Raleigh Fire Department," Stanford said. "It was jumping all over the place."

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  • staceymoe Mar 5, 2007

    does anybody know if they are still taking donations at the church? or anywhere else?? I have a bunch of stuff I was going to have a yardsale with.... Id be happy to just donate it all to these people who have nothing. To me, this stuff is all "crap" but to them... it would be golden. Id rather give it to them than sell it at a yardsale to someone who doesnt really "need" it. staceymoe-at aol-dot-com

  • i walk alone Feb 25, 2007

    prove it was a cigarette.......positively....not some uppity non smokers opinion.....or firefighters best guess....ya can't

  • kma1005 Feb 25, 2007

    dsal i hope you dont think that is the actual translation, the actual translation for ecuhg would be "Idiota no fumes!"

  • shawnzy61 Feb 25, 2007

    I love how all people bash the whole cig fact. All of you can not tell me you do not have one friend or family member that does smoke. I am a smoker to but I put out my cig and take care of it like a decent human but i hate to see all these people bash on smokers. Does society view us as pieces of trash because we smoke? I hope not because if you do you need to get a life. I do agree though that the people who were smoking should have made a point to put out there smoke, and i do feel bad for the people that lost their homes. My prayers are with them but it looks like this comment forum has turned into lets bash every piece of crap that smokes.

  • dsal68 Feb 24, 2007

    ecuhg -Traslation is "papito lindo"

  • Angry Grrl Feb 24, 2007

    I hope everyone who casually tosses their nasty cigarette butts out their car windows or off their balconies sees this story and thinks twice about the damage that their disgusting habit causes.

  • mvnull Feb 24, 2007

    Scot120, rubbernecking is one way the community shows that it is a community. It's a human thing to do. It has happened to me as well, after a tornado went through my neighborhood, killing a girl. If you want to put a positive spin on it, make a sign showing these people where to donate money, clothes, etc (Red Cross, Crossroads Fellowship Church). The whole "show" will be over in a month or less.

  • ecuhg Feb 24, 2007

    Cigs. was my first guess at the cause. I build houses for a living. We constantly tell workers not to smoke at construction sites. There are piles of sawdust and all other flammable materials on site. This really sucks for the families. How do you say in Spanish, Hey idiot, no smoking!!!

  • scot30 Feb 24, 2007

    I live on Pine Knoll Dr. VERY close to where this fire occurred (my house is OK). It is unbelievable how much the traffic has increased in the neighborhood in general, but especially on Old Buffaloe Rd., Pine Knoll Dr., and McAdams Dr. Let me tell everyone this: The authorities still have the end of Pine Knoll Dr. where the fire occurred blocked off so you can't get up in there, AND it doesn't look any different in person than it does in the pictures on the web, in the newspaper, or on TV. I would like to suggest this: If you don't live over here and aren't coming over here for business purposes, PLEASE QUIT COMING OVER HERE AND DISRUPTING OUR PREVIOUSLY CALM AND QUIET NEIGHBORHOOD!!! I feel very sad for the many people that lost their homes, and hope they can get back on their feet and back to a (somewhat) normal life again soon! They may have lost their homes and all their belongings, but they have their lives which is a great blessing!

  • Lizard Paw Feb 24, 2007

    I knew the smokers would catch the brunt of this. Even when they were politely standing outside and not smoking in the house. It's still their fault!!!