Local News

Authorities Determine Cause of Townhouses Fire

Posted February 23, 2007 6:38 a.m. EST
Updated February 23, 2007 6:12 p.m. EST

— A fire that ripped through a north Raleigh townhouse complex Thursday was caused by "carelessly discarded smoking material," authorities said Friday afternoon.

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.

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.

Authorities escorted residents through the site Friday afternoon to retrieve any belongings that could be salvaged.

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

The State Bureau of Investigation posted two agents at the site Friday with two pages of house numbers. Any townhouse not on the list has been destroyed, authorities said.

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

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.

"Largest Fire Ever"

About 150 firefighters and six aerial trucks battled the townhouses fire for more than an hour, using hundreds of gallons of water per minute to douse the flames.

At one point Thursday afternoon, every emergency official in Raleigh was on some kind of call.

Flames shot 40 yards into the air and created a smoke plume about 200 yards long, authorities said.

"What I saw of teh fire was probably the largest fire I've ever seen, and 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've 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," Assistant Fire Chief Larry Stanford said. "It was jumping all over the place."