Discarded smoking materials cannot be ruled out as the cause of a Thursday afternoon fire that displaced more than two dozen people from a Rock Hill apartment complex, fire officials said Friday afternoon.
Officially the cause is listed as "undetermined."
Fire officials do not believe the fire that damaged 16 units at Deerfield Run was intentional, said Travis McDaniel, investigator for the Rock Hill Fire Department. Cigarette and cigar butts were found in front of the building where the fire started in a flower bed that was filled with pine needles , McDaniel said.
"There was evidence of smoking materials in the area of origin, but I can't pinpoint that smoking material was the actual cause," McDaniel said after he and others interviewed residents and witnesses and conducted an on-scene investigation.
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The fire damaged two adjacent buildings separated by a firewall. Eight apartments in one building were damaged by fire, smoke and water, while the eight units in the other building had smoke and water damage from fighting the fire. All units are now unlivable. Twelve were occupied at the time of the fire. No one was hurt.
Resident Christopher Lambert's black Labrador "Duck" was rescued during the fire, but his three cats were not found before the building was evacuated. Firefighters investigating Friday found two of the cats alive in the building and suspect the third escaped through an open door, McDaniel said.
Deerfield Run has several unoccupied units. The staff worked Friday to place affected residents in available apartments, said property manager Tammy Gaskin.
Sherry Chio, who lived in the bottom apartment of the building that burned, is a cancer patient who lost medications in the fire, as well as clothes and household goods.
Kerry Miller and Antonio Wright, who lived upstairs, said they wanted to see what clothes could be cleaned and saved. Miller and Wright both said they would buy renter's insurance - only two of the dozen families affected by Thursday's fire had renter's insurance, said Gaskin.
Renters are told about the need for insurance and the dangers of discarded cigarettes, Gaskin said.
"One young couple here lost everything they own, Gaskin said.
Response to the affected families from neighbors, volunteers and the community was swift Thursday night and Friday.
Rock Hill resident Tim Walling came to the apartments Friday with clothes straight from the dry cleaner and offered them to help out strangers. Donations will be placed in empty units to give out to the residents who need items.
The American Red Cross provided immediate money for motels, food and emergency needs and will continue to help the families, said Gina Amato, director of emergency services for the Piedmont Red Cross chapter.
"After a fire people have immediate needs," Amato said. "Then they have needs further down the road because they lost furniture, clothes, even pots and pans."
Some children of the affected families attend Ebinport Elementary School, located across India Hook Road from the apartments. The school started a supply drive Friday, coordinating efforts with the apartment complex and the Red Cross, said Lou Ellen Holliday, school guidance counselor.
By mid-afternoon Friday, pledges of furniture and clothing had been received, Holliday said.
"We are a family here," she said. "When this happens, family helps each other."