North Little Rock apartment fire kills 3

Three people have died after a fire broke out at a North Little Rock apartment building early Tuesday, firefighters said.

The fire started around 2:22 a.m. in Building 8 of the Shorter College Gardens Apartments at 800 N. Beech St., according to a news release from the North Little Rock Police Department.

The victims were all adults, North Little Rock Fire Department Captain Dustin Free said. Their identities were not immediately revealed, as next of kin had not yet been informed.

Free said the department was waiting Tuesday afternoon for the administrative warrant it needed signed before an investigation into the cause of the fire could proceed. He added that it was normal procedure.

“The tenant of the property has passed away so there is no one to give us permission,” he said.

The fire was not only deadly but devastating to several families it displaced. Free describes the conditions at the scene when firefighters arrived as extreme.

“It was a situation where everyone was on deck,” said the captain. “We work every day to save a life, but sometimes we are warned too late. The firefighters intervened and tried to put out the fire aggressively.”

Free said the fire started in a first-floor apartment, but climbed through the building’s walls and roof and caused the second floor to collapse.

He said he did not believe the three victims died from the collapse.

Apartment complex fires are more complicated than house fires, Free said.

“When we arrived, there were people inside. The fire was at the back of the complex, and the firefighters had to decide how to lay the pipe to be able to reach it. This creates an additional obstacle,” said he declared.

He said the fire was completely extinguished by 7:10 a.m.

Although the fire was confined to a single building, the damage left several tenants homeless.

“I’m done. I have nothing,” said Audrey Marion, one of the people who lost their home, on Tuesday afternoon.

Marion, from North Little Rock, has three children under the age of five and is expecting a fourth.

She said she was sleeping in her apartment when she heard a loud “boom” around 2:40 a.m. She thought her child had fallen out of bed, but “it didn’t”.

She was alerted to the fire by her downstairs neighbor, who was outside yelling at people to call the police about it.

“At that point I started to smell smoke. I grabbed something to put on, grabbed my baby and ran,” Marion said. “I had no keys, no phone, nothing, just outside. Once we looked up, there was smoke everywhere.”

Everyone in Marion’s house was able to escape safely.

“If no one had said anything, we probably would have been in there,” the mother said. Now she is trying to find a place to sleep and a way to feed her children. “I need funds,” Marion said.

Free, the fire captain, said the mayor’s office, the North Little Rock School District and the Red Cross were working together to help displaced families who lived in the building.

He said he could not fully assess the damage Tuesday afternoon.

“An engineer or contractor will have to look and see if it can be fixed or just torn down and rebuilt, but we had to cut the utilities to the building,” he said.

Several families displaced by the fire have requested assistance from the Arkansas Red Cross, spokesman John Brimley said.

“We were able to open about 12 cases to help families or individuals,” Brimley said. “We want to assess their needs to find out if they need spiritual or mental, sometimes financial, help.”

Free said he heard from North Little Rock School District Superintendent Gregory Pilewski via text Tuesday. The superintendent asked if any of his students had been injured and sent people from the district to help.

“I contacted Captain Free first thing this morning to find out how many of our children had been affected,” Pilewski said.

The superintendent said the district has staff in the apartment complex all day, trying to help families find temporary accommodations or shelters. The district sent clothes as part of its “unprotected” program, he said.

“It’s important for us to prove that not only are we showing up for our students, but also for our North Little Rock community,” Pilewski said.

More help came in the form of volunteers who arrived on Tuesday as children ran around the apartment complex, playing games with each other.

Many children had bottles of juice in their hands and ate sandwiches.

“Do you want a sandwich?” Dion Simpson asked some of the kids who were there.

He and his friends grew up in the area, which is why he wanted to give back to the community when he heard about the fire through social media. He and a few others went there to hand out Chick-fil-A sandwiches, juice and snacks to kids.

“We just think it would be good to give back to the community in the best way possible because people have lost family members, kids, babies and stuff like that, and have nowhere to live. .” said Simpson.

He said the group was also preparing hotel rooms for affected families and would try to get clothes and shoes for children in the community.

“We’re just funding this out of our own pockets, with our own money,” Simpson said.

“Anything you can give them – just help them as best you can. There’s not a certain number or amount. Just whatever you give them, and that would be appreciated,” he said. -he adds.

Ryan Caldwell was in the area when he saw smoke in the compound across the street.

He hopes Shorter College Gardens can provide an apartment for those who have lost their homes.

“I don’t know how much help they can give. … I hope they allow them to stay in another apartment that’s already empty,” Caldwell said.

Valerie Jerome, a spokeswoman for Ohio-based The Millennia Companies, which oversees the property, said Thursday there were unrented units in the complex that were being made available to displaced families.

As of Thursday evening, six of those families had collected keys to the new units, she said. Jerome said five more families are expected to collect keys on Friday and his team plans to hand over keys to a 12th resident who has mobility issues.

Twelve households were affected by the fire, she said.

Jerome also provided the following statement:

“This is a difficult time for the Shorter College Gardens community. We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and are working together to respond to this tragedy.

“Currently, the property management and executive teams are engaged and cooperating with officials as they continue their assessment of the incident, as there are protocols that must be followed.

“In addition, the team is focused on meal planning and coordinating additional resources to support those affected by the fire.

“All are extremely grateful to the volunteers, including nonprofits and faith-based organizations, who help to help.”

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