Residents of condemned, fire-ravaged apartment building want answers

By Heather Leigh, Mobile journalist, hleigh@wjxt.com
Published On: May 19 2014 03:10:14 PM EDT
Updated On: May 19 2014 07:29:52 PM EDT

New information about A raging fire that engulfed an Arlington Apartment building. More than 20 homeless families are questioning whether their building could have been saved.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The State Fire Marshal's Office is still trying to determine the cause of a three-alarm blaze that destroyed a 32-unit apartment building at the River City Landing Apartments in Arlington early Saturday morning.

More than 20 families were displaced. The building has been condemned, and losses are expected to exceed $1 million.

LISTEN: Apartment fire 911 call

One of two smoke inhalation victims remained hospitalized Monday. A firefighter suffered burns to his wrist while fighting the flames.

On top of losing belongings, River City Landing residents said they are concerned about the scarcity of fire hydrants at the complex and why the building wasn't up to current building codes.

Residents said their apartments could have been saved if there had been more than one fire hydrant in the complex.

According to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, red hydrants are privately owned, which means it's up to the complex to take care of them and make sure they are properly maintained. Yellow hydrants, on the other hand, are owned and operated by JEA.

JFRD said businesses and complexes aren't required to have fire hydrants.

Randy Wyse, president of Jacksonville's Association of Firefighters, told Channel 4 the hydrant at the complex is known as a dead-end hydrant, meaning it doesn't have much water pressure. He also said 2,000 feet of hose was run from that hydrant and JEA boosted power from it.

“We'd be a very poor fire department if we required all of the perfect scenarios to be present every time a dispatch to a structure fire took place,” said Tom Francis, spokesman for JFRD. “(That's) one of the reasons why we always bring water to the party on our own.”

Wyse said because of the age of the building there was no sprinkler system and there were no fire stops, which would've prevented the fire from spreading from building to building. Wyse said fire codes are different with older buildings.

JFRD said some of the older building codes have been grandfathered in. For example, modern building codes require firewalls be in between each unit and reach into the roof and attic.

“There is no mandatory disclosure, so in other words, the renter is not necessarily going to be informed of exactly what kind of building they're looking at,” Francis said. “For example, (if) the firewall is up-to-date with today’s modern code.”

Some codes can't be grandfathered in, however. For example, businesses and complexes must have lighted exit signs and a sprinkler system inside the building, no exceptions.

“I'm very shocked about that,” River City Landing resident Lachelle Christian said. “If I had any idea that that was like that, I don't think I would have moved out there.

“We lost family pictures and just mementos of things that were very dear to us,” Christian said. “We lost it all. You can't get that back.”

Fire officials said the lesson from this unfortunate incident is to ask questions when looking at a new place, so renters can make an informed decision.

The American Red Cross is helping victims, like Christian and her husband, with clothes, food and a place to stay. Christian said they didn't have renter's insurance.

“It never dawned on me that I ever needed it," Christian said. "When you move into a new place, you don't think about it burning down, and that was the last thought I had on my mind.”

State Farm agent Matt Carlucci said renter's insurance is a critical part of the recovery process. He said it helps replace belongings and is relatively cheap.

“While that apartment is being repaired, it will help them find and live somewhere else until they can get back into that location," Carlucci said. "Any additional living expenses they incur because of the fire, for the first week or two, maybe food, laundry, finding another place, storing things that survive the fire, all of that is covered.”

Carlucci said a common misconception is that if the building has insurance, it will cover tenants' belongings, too.

“The apartment doesn't cover anything," Carlucci said. "They have no insurable interest in covering your TV, your couch, your furniture, so that's why you have to buy your own renter's insurance.”

Carlucci said it's important to take pictures of everything you own, so that if a fire happens, you have proof of the things you owned for insurance purposes.

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