Apartment fire damages 20 units, displaces more than 30 people

Jul. 08, 2013 @ 07:10 PM

An early afternoon blaze at Royal Oaks Apartments left more than 30 people displaced after fire ravaged 20 units in one of the apartment buildings.

Durham Fire Chief Dan Curia said all of the apartments in the building were damaged either by fire or by smoke and water and that the building appears to be a total loss.

No injuries were reported and all 40 occupants were accounted for. No one had to be rescued from any units.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated but it apparently began in a rear bedroom of Apartment 106, Curia said Monday afternoon.

American Red Cross Triangle Region is providing displaced residents food, shelter, clothing and other immediate needs. Red Cross workers arrived on the scene while fire fighters continued to battle the blaze. Curia said that the Red Cross is assisting 25 residents.

Jersey Mikes and Fire House Subs have partnered with the Red Cross to provide food for the displaced families and first responders. Royal Oaks Apartments is working with the Red Cross to find empty units for those affected by the fire

Seven fire trucks and 50 firefighters responded to the blaze, Curia said, and he was still on the scene at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Curia said that firefighters received the call at 12:30 p.m. and arrived to see flames and smoke billowing from the building. Firefighters had the fire under control by later that afternoon but remained on the scene into the evening.

“Monday’s fire was at least the fourth major blaze at the apartment complex in the past 10 years,” Curia said.

The fire forced many residents to quickly scrounge for clothes and any essentials they could before evacuating their homes.

Paula Mabrey has been a resident since about 2008. She went door to door, warning neighbors of the blaze.

“I was looking at T.V. when I heard the doorbell ring,” she said. “I went to the door and I heard the kids crying in the hall. I opened the door and saw smoke.”

Mabrey said that she believes blaze began in her neighbor’s apartment. Her neighbor was not available for comment.

Mabrey said that she went back into her apartment to put on clothes and get her fire extinguisher. When she returned, she said, the hallway was filled with black smoke and all she could do was warn as many people as she could.

“I told everyone to get out,” she said. “I got a fire extinguisher and tried to put out the fire but the hall was completely black. I just panicked and left.”

One of the doors that Mabrey knocked on was that of longtime resident Greg Berry.

Having lived in Royal Oaks apartments since 1984, Berry said that he knows of four fires throughout the complex but never had a fire directly affect him.

“I live on the opposite end of Paula,” he said. “I was waiting on a delivery of medical supplies but it was her knocking, saying it was a fire. So when I opened the door, there was smoke in the hallway.”

Still in his pajamas, Berry said, he went back into his apartment and put on a pair of jeans, grabbed his cell phone and ATM card and left.

“The fire trucks were here within 10 to 15 minutes,” Berry said. “They got here quickly.”

Another Royal Oaks resident waiting on the lawn was.

Angelica Samuels  said she had lived in Apartment 103 on the far right corner of the building for about four years and thought that the fire alarm was another prank.

“There have been a number of fires in the complexes,” Smauels said. “I felt untouchable. I just thought some children had pulled the fire alarm.”

Samuels said that she was about to take a nap when Mabrey knocked on her door.

“I opened the door and there were two feet of smoke above my door,” she said.

Samuels said that among the items she lost were several personal journals and paintings she had made for her parents.

“A miracle can save my stuff but everyone keeps telling me no,” she said. “All I have is my phone. This is very emotional. I’ve never been through anything like this before.”