Burlington fire leaves half dozen homeless

Published 3:44 pm Friday, February 6, 2009

BURLINGTON — A Burlington apartment fire that destroyed a four-unit building and left six people homeless Friday morning was not arson, according to the state fire marshal’s office.

Firefighters from five local departments worked to extinguish the flames that rose from the Division Street Apartments on Township Road 1335. The fire ignited in the computer room of one of the two upstairs apartments, said Dale Jackson Sr., who co-owns the apartment complex with his son and daughter-in-law.

“At this time the exact cause of the fire has not been determined,” said Shane Cartmill, public information officer for the state fire marshal. “However, investigators say there are no indications of criminal intent or arson.”

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It was started in the upstairs of the structure in apartment 8, in the area of a sofa, Cartmill said.

All tenants safely vacated the building, but at least three animals were unable to be saved from the flaming building, owners said.

William Edwards, the tenant who occupied the apartment where the fire started, said his best guess was one of his three cats had chewed through electrical wires.

Just a year ago, one of Edwards’ cats had been electrocuted and killed by gnawing on computer cords, Jackson said.

Edwards, who occasionally does maintenance work for his landlords, was working in a neighboring apartment building when the fire ignited. Helen Bryan, who lived in the adjoining upstairs apartment, was the first to become aware of the fire.

“I was inside and my smoke alarm started going off,” said Bryan, who occupied the residence with her 17-year-old daughter and 23-year-old son.

“I looked around my apartment, but I couldn’t find anything. So I opened the hallway door and smoke started pouring inside.”

Bryan’s two children were still sleeping at the time, but they all quickly vacated the apartment.

The only other occupant in the building was a woman in one of the two ground-floor apartments who safely left the building with her two dogs, Bryan said.

Neither Edwards nor Bryan had an active renter’s insurance policy. Bryan said she was in the process of acquiring insurance, and, before the news of the fire, an insurance representative was scheduled to take photographs of the premises today.

Co-owner of the apartment Brandi Jackson said she was not worried about the physical building but was concerned with the people who lived inside.

“There are four people who have nowhere to go,” Brandi said. “In the blink of an eye, they have nothing. I could care less about the building.”

Brandi empathizes with the tenants because she was once herself a victim of a house fire.

“There are still days I think, ‘Oh, I had something like that,’ and realize it was gone a long time ago,” she said.

Jackson said he plans to rebuild the complex.