River Creek neighbors starting over after fire

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News 12 First at Five, March 13, 2008

AUGUSTA, Ga -- 25 people without a home this evening after a big fire Wednesday night at the River Creek Apartments. Now, people returning to their homes trying to save what they have left.

Today's preliminary findings by fire investigators show no sign of arson, but the exact cause is still not known; what is known is that most of these people lost everything.

"I think I can't cry anymore. No tears will come out. I'm just glad I got my wallet, my ID and get ready to start-go buy new stuff." A new take on life for 26-year-old Erin Kenerly, after a life or death decision Wednesday night.

"I opened the door, kind of bombarded me, the smoke. I kept opening and shutting the door, opening and shutting the door trying to get out of there but i even just told myself either you're going to die or get out."

She made it out with the clothes on her back and her doberman named Cane. " I couldn't breathe, couldn't see. I was calling out i can't see! I can't see! And my neighbor was like follow my voice! Follow my voice! So i followed his voice and finally i was like drop, so i dropped and saw the stairs and ran down to my neighbor, knocked on the door, told her to get out and that was it."

In the light of day, Erin and her neighbors see first hand what is left

It was in a downstairs unit where fire investigators say this fire initially started. It quickly spread, burning five other units, causing the roof to collapse and destroying three more with smoke and water damage.

"Our apartment was the last apartment that caught on fire." Sharawn Matthews, a 21-year-old father, also having to start all over. "(Sigh) It's burnt down, I mean the walls are still up, but the roof is caved in, all my clothes and all my money I put in the house is gone."

In a matter of minutes, a lifetime of belongings now gone, but most important-- they all made it out unharmed

"You take things for granted and something like that happens and it kind of changes you a little bit." adds Kenerly.

News 12: "Any life lessons?"

Kenerly: "Yes! Renters insurance! Get it! Because i don't have it."

And apartment fires spread fast, something some residents may remember from another fire at the complex in 1999. It destroyed an entire building, after a number of problems for firefighters, including water and equipment issues; but this time they applied their learned lessons too

"We had plenty of water and that's the reason we were able to save some of these apartments." says Lt. G.B. Hannon with the Richmond County Fire Department.

And now Lt. Hannon wants to make sure valuable lessons are passed on because future fire disasters are a fact of life

"Renters insurance! It's dirt cheap and you got to have it! Most people assume it can't happen. These people here didn't believe it. You can be safe, but what about the people next to you? "

It's a message ringing loud and now that the smoke has cleared.

"Stupid me! But i learned my lesson. I'll get it as soon as I get a new apartment." Kenerly says.

The investigation is supposed to last a week according to Lt. Hannon, but he says he does not expect to find an intentional cause. Right now, all signs point to an accidental fire.

16 units were inside the building, 8 are destroyed, but everyone who lived in building 15 has to be relocated, whether their unit was destroyed by the fire or not. The property manager says they are working to put the residence's in other apartments at River Creek or other apartment complexes owned by the company in Augusta.

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