CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Fire investigators are working to determine the cause of a massive fire at a West Ashley apartment complex that left nearly 200 people without homes.
The fire broke out early Monday morning at the Palms Apartments on Royal Palm Boulevard. The first reports of the fire came into Charleston County Consolidated Dispatch at 4:54 a.m.
Charleston Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh said 56 units at the Palms Apartments on Royal Palm Boulevard were damaged or destroyed by the fire.
When crews first arrived at the 220 building, they rescued at least five people who were on their balconies. The fire is believed to have begun in the first floor, but before firefighters arrived on the scene, it had already spread to the attic space, Julazedeh said.
Charleston Fire Chief Daniel Curia said the first crews on the scene faced a major challenge with the fire.
“First units had insurmountable odds, he said. “And the fact that the fire is under control at this point with no reported injuries is is probably the best we can hope for.”
Julazadeh said that when firefighters first arrived, the fire seemed to be confined to the first floor and residents were reporting smoke in the hallway.
“So we don’t believe there was a large volume of smoke on the initial arrival,” he said. “However, shortly after they arrived we started having reports of fire visible in the attic or venting from the attic shortly after that fire was actually breaching through the roof of the building. So we know that the flame conditions had already spread prior to their arrival.”
As crews battled the fire, Julazadeh said there were reports of collapses in the building, requiring firefighters to back out.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg also praised the Charleston Police Department for their quick actions before the first firefighters arrived at the scene.
“Some of the citizens were telling me it was the police officers going door-to-door to rouse them out of to safety,” he said.
Firefighters spent much of the day working with the apartment’s rental office to verify that everyone listed on the leases of each of the damaged units was accounted for. Word came in Monday afternoon that everyone was safe and no one had been injured in the fire, something Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg called “a real blessing.”
Julazadeh said the building was not equipped with sprinklers, but that it was built at a time when sprinklers were not mandated in the fire code.
County records show the apartments were built in 1966.
According to the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the state’s building code first required fire sprinklers in new apartment buildings on July 22, 2005. Requirements are not retroactive and only apply to buildings established after that date.
“It’s a great safety measure. We know the fire sprinklers save lives,” he said. “And that’s why they’re mandated as part of current code. But this building would not have been brought up to today’s code unless there was substantial renovation that was done.”
The Charleston Fire Department said an estimated 179 residents were displaced overall because of the fire.
There was no word on how long it was expected to take to determine what caused the fire.
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