RALEIGH, N.C. – A discarded cigarette butt is believed to be the cause of the massive fire that destroyed a 12-unit building at The Pinnacle Apartments in Raleigh Saturday afternoon, Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Keith Tessinear told CBS North Carolina.
Tessinear said investigators determined that the fire was an accident and it started outside the building after the cigarette butt was improperly discarded. A “Red Flag Warning” had been issued Saturday, meaning that conditions were favorable for outside fires.
The fire destroyed one of the buildings at the apartment complex and sparked brush fires in a large area surrounding the apartments as huge columns of smoke were spotted in the Crabtree Valley Mall area on Saturday afternoon.
Three people were injured, two seriously. Two of the three were taken to the Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Health Care with burns to their hands. One of the injured has been released and the other is still being held at the burn center. The third person injured was injured after jumping off their balcony to escape the fire.
The fire was reported just before 5:30 p.m. at The Pinnacle Apartments, which are located on Edwards Mill Road behind Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh.
The Red Cross said five dogs were killed and 17 people were displaced.
The brush fires and the emergency response shut down a section of Interstate 440 and Crabtree Valley Avenue at Creedmoor and Glenwood.
Images from the apartment fire scene showed a building in ruins and at least two cars that were burned out.
A CBS North Carolina reporter saw embers being carried by high winds across streets and into yards of neighbors, who were stomping out small fires with their feet. The fire along I-440, a half-mile away, was linked to the Pinnacle Apartment blaze, officials later said.
The conditions Saturday were just right for a fire like this one to start and then spread, said Raleigh Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Brad Harvey.
“Dry conditions, low humidity – just a perfect storm for a fire,” he said.
Fire officials said at 7:30 p.m. Saturday that all residents had been accounted for and are safe.
At least one resident was able to save their pets before the building was completely engulfed.
“[I said] let me get the dog, the cat get, everything out of the building,” said resident Kirstyn Tedford. “I was petrified.”
A man who lived in a building that was destroyed by the blaze says a neighbor saved his life by waking him up as the fire was underway.
Sergy Milikisiyants says a neighbor who knows he works a night shift and sleeps during the day knocked on his door as flames engulfed the building.
Milikisiyants, who is from Russia, was only able to grab his passport before his apartment was destroyed.
“[I] woke up and threw my jeans on, open the door and see that,” he said of the fire. “I couldn’t believe it because there was no smell, no alarms.”
Fire crews were still putting out hot spots Sunday morning at the apartment complex.