A deadly fire that killed five children in Greensboro, North Carolina, led to an inspection of the apartment complex where the fire occurred. Officials uncovered more than 200 violations, including non-functioning smoke detectors in the unit where the fatal tragedy happened.
Recent years have seen an increase in concerns over the fire safety in apartment buildings, especially those that are low-income residences. Fires like the fatal December 2017 Bronx fire highlight the risks that come with neglected maintenance and upkeep. Thirteen people died in that fire, where the building received citations for a defective carbon monoxide detector and a faulty smoke detector.
The May 12, 2018, Greensboro apartment fire is the deadliest in the city since 2004.
Structure Fire Believed to Have Started Due to Unattended Cooking
The tragic fire happened around 3:54 a.m. in the 3100 block of Summit Avenue. Firefighters responded quickly, reaching the apartment building only four minutes after being notified of the fire. When firefighters reached the scene, they found the apartment where the fire broke out already engulfed in flames and smoke. Eleven minutes later they recovered five children and one adult from the apartment. Nine minutes after that, crews extinguished the fire.
Two of the five children, who ranged in age from just 18 months to 9 years old, died that day, while three more died the following day at the hospital. All children were refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The children’s father was also rescued from the fire and suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
An early investigation into the fire by the Greensboro Fire Marshal and Greensboro’s Fire and Life Safety Division found that the fire originated in the kitchen and, more specifically, at the stove. Investigators said in a press release that they believe the fire was accidental and started due to unattended cooking.
Investigators also said, however, that the children’s father complained, approximately three days before the fire, about small fires around the stove. A malfunction with the stove is also being investigated.
Arco Realty Releases Statement on Fire
The apartment complex is owned by Arco Realty, who gave a statement on the fire to Fox8 News.
“It is with the deepest sympathy that we receive the unbelievably, horribly tragic news of this past Saturday morning. Our hearts are extremely heavy and our prayers go out to the family and community.”
Tenants Push for Building Inspection After Greensboro Apartment Fire
Soon after the fire the N.C. Department of Insurance issued a press release stating that the apartment where the fire occurred had smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms, but that they were not working at the time.
The fire inspired other tenants in the apartment complex—and others nearby—to call on officials to inspect for fire safety issues.
A public safety meeting was held just days after the Greensboro apartment fire, where residents gathered with city officials and activists to discuss their concerns. They started a petition and obtained enough signatures for the city to conduct inspections.
More Than 200 Violations Found in Complex
The results from the Greensboro City inspection into the apartment complex at the 3100 block were shocking: Inspectors discovered more than 200 violations; approximately 10 violations for each unit in the complex.
The violations ranged from loose handrails and missing foundation vents to major issues such as a room with no smoke detectors and spaces with no running water. Following the inspection, the city required Arco Realty to remedy the major issues, which is reported to have happened.
Firefighters also went through the building, separate from the city inspection, and installed smoke detectors and changed batteries in detectors that needed new ones.
The apartment complex has a long history of violations, going as far back as 2001. In 2013 city officials even condemned the complex, though enough issues were addressed to reopen it shortly thereafter.
North Carolina Law Requires Working Smoking Detectors in Units
North Carolina Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Mike Causey used the fire as a chance to remind renters and landlords that, in the state of North Carolina, the law requires rental properties have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
The law, Senate Bill 77, has been in place since December 31, 2012, and requires landlords to not only provide smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and ensure they are installed in accordance with the standards of the National Fire Protection Association, but also to replace or repair broken smoke alarms within 15 days of receiving notification from the tenant. Every time a new tenancy starts, the landlord is required to make sure that both the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms in the unit are fully operational and in good repair.
Almost a Thousand People, Including Greensboro Mayor, Attend Funeral
The five children who lost their lives in the Greensboro apartment fire were mourned on May 26, 2018, two weeks after the fire. Nearly a thousand people attended the funeral.
Five caskets, marked by name, were at the front of Mount Zion Baptist Church: Hope Roy, Lisa Josiane, Christopher Danny, Joshua John, and Trump Emmanuel Kamali.
The Greensboro Mayor was among the attendees of the funeral service, as well as the Guildford County School Superintendent and county commissioners and representatives.