DeAngelo Moore of United Movers was on the job Tuesday morning, helping a tenant who lived at Pine Ridge Apartments prepare for a move to Dothan.
Two boxes of her belongings had been loaded, he said, when a door opened to an apartment in Building 5 and he saw the smoke.
“We started knocking on doors,” Moore said, to let people living at the East Gadsden complex know about the danger.
“Before long, the second building caught up,” Moore said.
The fast-moving blaze destroyed at least 20 units in two buildings of the apartment complex, Gadsden Fire Chief Stephen Carroll said. According to the American Red Cross, 28 units had damage and between 30 and 35 people have been displaced.
There were no injuries, Carroll said, and that is fortunate. All residents have been accounted for.
The call — just one call, initially — came in at 8:11 a.m. the chief said.
“There was a common attic,” Carroll said, “and the fire just rolled through it.”
He said when he arrived at the scene, the roof on the fully wooden structure had begun to collapse.
“If you got out … you were lucky,” Carroll said.
When firefighters arrived, they rescued a couple of people and found there were others already helping to get people out. It’s something firefighters appreciate, Carroll said, as long as “Good Samaritans” can do so safely.
Carroll said one woman approached a firefighter because she had a pet or pets in her apartment. He said she gave them a key and they tried to get into the apartment, but the fire made it impossible.
The extent of the blaze made it impossible for firefighters to make an offensive attack from inside the structure, the chief said. They worked in a defensive mode, putting water on the fire from outside.
Two buildings were destroyed, and Carroll said the buildings on either side had damage where the heat of the fire melted vinyl siding.
It’s believed that fire started in Building 5, possibly in an upper floor apartment; that’s what Moore said, based on what he saw.
But the chief said at this point, fire investigators have not determined where the blaze began or what caused it.
The American Red Cross and Gadsden/Etowah County Emergency Management Agency were on the scene to assist residents and responders. GECEMA Public Information Officer Breonna Cole said the agency is helping to ensure responders have what they need on the scene and working with other responding agencies.
Red Cross Disaster Program Specialist William Battles said the agency will help residents with food, clothing and shelter, providing them with a prepaid debit card that should help cover lodging for a few nights and other needs.
“Most of the residents seem to have renter’s insurance,” Battles said, which will help them to recover from the loss.
Some residents lost prescription medications and durable medical equipment in the blaze, he said, and help is being provided for those losses.
Battles said counseling is available at no charge to help those dealing with what can be a devastating event.
After immediate needs for shelter, food and clothing are met, he said the agency will be available to help residents in the coming weeks as they recover from the fire.
Firefighters from Glencoe, Hokes Bluff, Ball Play Bend, and Ball Play No. 1 fire stations assisted, with the Hokes Bluff and Ball Play departments bringing their tanker trucks to the scene.
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