GREENSBORO — Food left on a stove, not defective equipment, caused an apartment fire last weekend that left five children dead, fire officials say.
“We had an extensive interview with the mother and father yesterday, which led to this determination to the cause and origin,” Assistant Fire Chief Dwayne Church said Friday.
Some extended family and community members had complained at a public meeting earlier this week about substandard conditions at the apartment complex at 3100 Summit Ave. Some said the family’s stove had been on the fritz.
“That specific question was asked in the interview and that was determined to be false,” Church said.
The parents told fire officials there was a problem with the stove but it was repaired and there had been no problems since March, he said.
“It was an accidental fire,” Church said.
Firefighters responded about 4 a.m. Saturday to Unit G in the apartment complex at the corner of Summit Avenue and East Cone Boulevard.
Firefighters called to the scene were able to get to the five children inside, three boys and two girls from 18 months to 9 years old, but they all died within the next 24 hours, unable to overcome their injuries.
The father, who works at a local factory, was home with the children but could not get them out. He suffered from smoke inhalation. The mother was working the overnight shift at a chicken plant several counties away.
The two-story town house had no sprinklers and no working smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, fire officials said.
Church did not have a damage estimate for the fire, which was contained to the one apartment.
“But that apartment’s going to have to be totally refurbished,” he said.
City officials announced during Wednesday’s meeting that housing inspectors will go door to door early next week to inspect every unit at the complex, which is managed by the Arco Realty Co. Beth Benton, the manager of the city’s code compliance division, said that action was made possible by five residents — the minimum necessary to take action — signing a petition.
Arco Realty, which is owned by Bill Agapion and several family members, has battled the city for decades over several hundred code violations at his extensive properties, many of them having been low-income rentals that fall below housing code standards.
There have been fewer code violations in recent years, but immigration advocates and tenants allege that the property manager at the Summit Avenue complex has been slow to make repairs. The units were inspected and in compliance with city housing codes 18 months ago.
Earlier this week, Irene Agapion-Martinez turned over tenants’ repair requests for the past month to a detective and the fire investigator. None were made about a stove in the affected family’s unit, she said.
The N.C. African Services Coalition placed the family at the apartment complex 18 months ago, when they arrived from the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of a resettlement program. But the agency has since stopped setting up homes there because of complaints about living conditions.
Officials have yet to identify the family.
The city has offered free burial plots and others are working on permanent housing for the parents. They have found a place to stay for now, Church said.
An online GoFundMe page has been set up to help with expenses. It had raised about $39,000 as of Friday night.
A private funeral is planned for May 26.