Local News

Shelter Opened to Aid Apartment Fire Victims

Posted August 20, 2007 5:19 a.m. EDT
Updated August 20, 2007 4:22 p.m. EDT

— The American Red Cross opened a shelter Monday afternoon for dozens of people displaced by an early morning fire at a north Raleigh apartment complex.

A three-alarm fire ripped through two buildings of Brentwood East Apartments, at 3819 Bonneville Court near New Hope Church Road, at about 4 a.m. Monday. About 70 firefighters responded to help extinguish the fire.

The fire started on a balcony of one of the apartments, although investigators hadn't determined the cause as of Monday afternoon, Raleigh Fire Department Battalion Chief E.M. Martin said.

At least 14 of the 22 units involved sustained damage from fire, water or smoke, authorities said.

Three residents, including one who jumped from a balcony, were taken to WakeMed with non-life-threatening injuries. One of those residents was transferred to the Jaycees Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, while a second was treated at WakeMed and released.

Two firefighters also suffered from smoke inhalation and exhaustion, and one of them was taken to a local hospital for treatment, Raleigh Fire Department Division Chief H.F. Warner said.

A four-hour firewall between buildings helped prevent the fire from spreading further, Martin said, noting most newer apartment buildings have firewalls that are designed to hold for only two hours.

All residents of the apartment buildings were accounted for, Warner said. Raleigh police were able to help get everyone out of the building by knocking on the residents' doors, he said.

"They were just banging on the door," resident Jacob Hannah said. "The next thing I know, they said, 'Fire,' and I just grabbed my stuff and ran out the door."

Martin said the apartments have smoke detectors, but it wasn't known how many were working.

The Red Cross opened a shelter at New Hope Baptist Church, at 4301 Louisburg Road, to help 45 adults and 26 children affected by the fire. Volunteers will serve meals, provide counseling and continue casework at the church.

“The American Red Cross will provide safe shelter for all those affected by the fire and financial assistance to help with food, clothing, medicines and other emergency needs,” Barry Porter, executive director of the Red Cross' Triangle Area Chapter, said in a statement. "After the emergency phase and victims are able to begin their recovery plans, the Red Cross will provide guidance and other financial assistance such as rent, deposits and bedding to re-locate those who have lost everything.”

Language has been a primary obstacle in helping the displaced families, Red Cross volunteer Alan McKinney said.

"The majority of these people are Spanish-speaking. We brought two different interpreters, but when you're dealing with 22 families, two interpreters are not enough," McKinney said.

The Raleigh Police Department and Fire Department also provided interpreters, and El Pueblo, an advocacy group for Hispanics, sent staffers to the apartment complex to assist with the recovery effort.

Hannah said he left the apartment with very little but that he is grateful he and his children are alive.

"The other stuff, I'm not worried about," he said. "As long as I made it out safe, that's all that really matters."