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1 Killed, 20 Displaced in Carrboro Apartment Fire

Posted September 30, 2007
Updated October 1, 2007

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— A 55-year-old woman was killed early Sunday morning in a fire at the Highland Hills apartment complex in Carrboro.

Most of the building at 180 BPW Club Road was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived four minutes after the first call at 1:59 a.m. Officials have not determined a cause.

Two women, Kristan Pietrowicv and Susan Thorne, each suffered broken bones after jumping from their second story apartment to escape the fire. One of the two also suffered spinal injuries. They were taken by Orange County EMS to UNC Hospital, where both were listed in fair condition.

Their friend, Colin Anderson, spent the day looking for one of their cats. He said he couldn't believe how they got out of the building.

"It's a brave thing to do to save their lives, and I'm proud of them," Anderson said.

One tenant was in Annapolis, Md., when she got the news. She said she lost everything.

"All I had taken was a pair of pants and a couple shirts," said Kate Connor. "I had left everything I had brought to college."

The apartment building housed a mixture of college students and families.

"[The fire] was pretty bad, fast moving. The fire had already progressed into a free-burning stage, and it had already consumed 70 percent of the building prior to our arrival," said Capt. Carl Freeman of the Carrboro Fire Department.

The woman who died lived on the first floor, officials said. Authorities have not released her name.

"Shortly after arriving here, we started to try to account for people, the numbers of people we had here," Freeman said. "We were able to start getting names and find out she wasn't accounted for."

A side of the building caved in shortly after firefighters arrived, Freeman said, and the backside collapsed inward. Investigators believe the fire started in an apartment on the east end of the building and spread quickly through open spaces above and below the units.

Crews from Carrboro and Chapel contained the fire in 18 minutes. It was brought fully under control within an hour, with firefighters from New Hope, New Chatham and Durham assisting.

Fourteen units were completely destroyed, leaving at least 20 people displaced. Several cars parked in front of the building also melted from the fire's intense flames.

Firefighters were still working Sunday afternoon to put out hot spots in the building's interior. Crews planned to knock down the shell of the building that was left standing. Freeman said that work could continue through Monday.

"We're having to let the fire burn through all the walls that have fallen over to get to it," Freeman said. "We're also waiting on some heavy machinery to come in to pull out some of the large pieces of wood that have fallen, so we can't get to the fire and put it out."

The Red Cross is providing food, clothing and temporary shelter to those displaced by the fire.