Investigators determine the cause of apartment fire - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

1/21/11

Investigators determine the cause of apartment fire

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LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) – Investigators said the fire that started just before noon Thursday was accidental. More than 55 people were affected after the Twin Oaks Apartments in West Lubbock caught fire. 

The fire destroyed 36 units because an upstairs apartment used their stove and oven as a sole heat source, after their electricity was turned off for non-payment. Once the resident paid the electricity, it was restored minutes before the fire started.

Authorities said the fire spread rapidly due to the strong winds, the construction and unsealed penetrations in walls and ceilings.

Another reason why firefighters had a hard time containing the blaze was because the City of Lubbock said a fire hydrant, near the apartment complex, was never turned on since its installation in 2004.

The Fire Marshal's office said, "Two critical lessons to be learned from this fire…never use a cooking device for heat, and turn off cooking appliances unless you are present.  It is also important to test smoke detectors."

Several residents complained about the poor maintenance, which included inoperable heaters, electrical arcing, and inoperable smoke detectors.  The Fire Marshal's office will be following up on code issues with management. 

It's a law in Texas that residents must write a letter to their landlord, which will notify them of the needed repairs.  The Fire Marshal's office advises residents to keep a hard copy of the written notice.

While everyone continues to pick up the pieces, one victim is trying to help by lending a hand to the Salvation Army. "Whatever they need to restore their lives to start again," said Larry Bontke, who lost everything in the apartment fire.

Larry Bontke was left with nothing but the shirt on his back, after flames engulfed his apartment Thursday.

"I was virtually in shock to see everything that I had was destroyed," said Bontke.

Bontke, a victim himself, is now trying to help by loading donations into the Salvation Army truck so everyone like him can carry on.

"The loss is more apparent to the people that have been involved in it than the people who have never experienced that. And being a victim makes me more aware of that. And so I try and help out," said Bontke.

The American Red Cross provided each victim with an emergency bag Thursday full of shampoo, soap, clothes and a debit card with a small amount of money to get them through some of the toughest few days of their lives.

"They lost everything and the only thing they own right now is the new clothes they bought late last night and the cot that they're sleeping on," said Bill Curnow, American Red Cross volunteer.

Curnow estimates they spent roughly $12,000 to $15,000 to help these victims get back on their feet for a few days. And the Twin Oaks Apartments management made sure every single person had a new apartment to stay in for shelter.

For now all the fire victims can do is pick up the pieces and find a way to move forward with the help from the community.

"My brother lives right there in 72 and all his stuff got messed up and destroyed," said Rebecca Garhardson, her brother was a fire victim, "All the stuff he could save they let him go in. He was able to save some of his clothes that was it and it's right here in my apartment."

The Salvation Army will be accepting donations in the parking lot of Marketstreet on 98th and Quaker from 9 a.m. to 7 a.m. Saturday.

They will accept anything for the people who lost everything. "We need household goods, furniture, pots and pans, dishes, clothes, food," said Bontke.

Call the Salvation Army for more information at (806) 765-9434

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