Safety features were in good working order at the east Charlotte apartment complex where a fire left 130 people homeless Monday, a fire department official said – but the fire spread so fast that sprinklers and alarms were overwhelmed.
“What saved people was neighbors knocking on the doors,” Charlotte Fire Capt. Jackie Gilmore said Tuesday.
The fire was intentionally set, investigators have determined. Three people were seriously injured and seven were hospitalized after the fire, which affected 40 apartment units at Woodscape apartments on Farm Pond Lane.
The fire swept up the exterior of the building and then entered the attic, Gilmore said, so it was burning above where mechanisms like sprinklers could be effective. At least 50 firefighters spent more than an hour extinguishing the flames.
Sprinkler pipes melted from the heat in the attic, Gilmore said.
The sprinkler system was older, built to meet requirements at the time the apartment was built, but Gilmore said this kind of fire would have overwhelmed a lot of systems.
Smoke detectors went off, too, investigators have determined - but because of the intensity, speed and lofty location of the fire, Gilmore said neighbors were key in spreading the alarm.
The apartment complex was last inspected in 2014 and had no violations at that time. It was scheduled to be inspected again in 2017 as part of a normal three-year cycle, Gilmore said.
The nonprofit Mecklenburg Ministries is collecting donations to help the people affected by the fire The organization is collecting personal goods including clothing, shoes and supplies for young children at New Hope Baptist Church, 7821 Idlewild Road.