Fire investigators working Thursday afternoon's Deerefield Run apartment fire in Rock Hill that displaced more than 25 people from 16 units are looking at the possibility of discarded smoking materials as the cause of the fire but do not believe the fire was intentionally set, said Travis McDaniel, the lead investigator for the case with the Rock Hill Fire Department.
"Nothing at this point makes us believe it is an intentional fire," McDaniel said this morning. "Smoking materials have not been ruled out."
In all, 16 units were damaged, with half of the units in building 2075 receiving fire, smoke, and water damage. The units on the other side of the fire wall in building 2077 had smoke and water damage from the fire suppression, McDaniel said. No residents or firefighters were hurt, officials said.
The fire started in a flower bed filled with pine needles about five or six feet from building 2075's Apartment A then spread to that building, McDaniel said, but investigators are continuing to interview residents and witnesses to compile more information. Investigators hope to release complete findings later today.
The fire caused about $500,000 in damage, said Chief Ben Funderburk of the Rock Hill Fire Department.
The call came in around 4:45 p.m. Crews contained the fire by 5:25 p.m. and stayed on the scene a few more hours putting out hot spots at the complex on McGee Road, near the intersection of India Hook and Ebinport Road.
When firefighters arrived, the blaze was coming through an apartment building's roof and windows, Funderburk said. The entire roof is gone from one building and the inside gutted.
The fire stunned everyone at the apartment complex as neighbors gathered to watch.
Eleven-year-old Aisha Brown said at one time the smoke was so thick it burned her nose and throat. She was scared, she said, but excited to see the firefighters in action.
Muntasir Thompson was at work when he got the call that his apartment was on fire. His phone didn't stop ringing as he sped home to discover his apartment was destroyed in the blaze.
Thompson, who moved in two months ago, just shook his head as he looked at the charred remains of his home.
"You never think something like this will happen to you," Thompson said.
Tony Wright, another Deerfield resident, was driving into the complex when he saw smoke coming out of the apartment where he lives with his children, ages 9 and 4.
"It's completely gone," he said Thursday evening. "I'm going to have to start all over. Everything that's special - the pictures - gone.
"But at least we're safe," he added. "That's what matters."
Fire crews were able to rescue several animals, including Christopher Lambert's black lab, named Duck. But Lambert's three cats hid and were unable to be removed before crews locked up the building and secured the premises. His unit, which is on the lower level, was less damaged than some of the others, but authorities wouldn't allow Lambert in because of the potential for the roof to collapse.
He won't be able to check on the cats until later today.
"I hope they're all right," Lambert said. "I have insurance for everything else but the cats can't be replaced."
Property manager Tammy Gaskin said just two of the 12 families affected by the fire had renters insurance. The residents will be allowed to move into different units at Deerfield Run apartments.
At least 10 volunteers came out Thursday and helped find lodging for the displaced families, said Rebecca Melton, executive director of the Upper Palmetto Chapter of the American Red Cross.
"Red Cross will provide food and clothing," she said. "Most of them lost all their clothes - everything that they own."
- Andrew Dys contributed