By Joel Hall
What started as an unattended candle, set fire to an entire apartment building in Forest Park early Monday morning. Eight units at the Clayton Forest Apartments were completely destroyed, displacing six families and injuring three people, one of whom was taken to the hospital.
The fire started at about 2 a.m., in Building F of the complex, located at 4711 Waldrop Drive. Forest Park Fire Chief Eddie Buckholts said the fire started when a candle caught fire to a bed in apartment F5, quickly setting fire to the rest of the building.
"The occupant attempted to extinguish the fire himself, but it didn't work out too well," Buckholts said. "We received the first call at 2:10 a.m. By the time we arrived, there were flames through the roof."
According to Buckholts, three people were treated for minor smoke inhalation. One of those victims - a 16-year-old male - was transported to Southern Regional Medical Center and released later on Monday. The other two were treated on site.
The blaze caused approximately $185,000 worth of damage, and displaced twelve people from six different families, Buckholts said.
Randy Thomas, a resident next door in Building E, said he was awakened in the middle of the night by police, who evacuated the building.
"Police came by knocking on all the doors, waking everybody up," Thomas said. "The flames were so bad, they thought it was going to hit this building. The flames were about 50 feet high. I've never been this close ... It's scary."
Buckholts said the apartments were likely built "in the early 1960s" and did not have sprinkler systems in place. He added that the upper apartments of the building all shared a common attic, with no fire walls between them.
"Once a fire gets up in the attic, it will just run from one end of the building to the other," without a fire wall, Buckholts said.
Lorena Ataides, manager of Clayton Forest Apartments, said this was the first fire at the apartment complex in eight years. She said the displaced families would be relocated to different apartments within the complex.
"It's unfortunate, but I'm glad everyone is OK," Ataides said on Monday. "Everybody was accounted for. We're relocating them now. Between today and tomorrow, everybody should be in their new apartment."
Buckholts said the apartment complex was grandfathered in under older fire codes. He said the city is working on legislation for a sprinkler ordinance that would require buildings that undergo large amounts of refurbishing or rehabilitation to have sprinkler systems installed.
"It [the apartment complex] was consistent with the fire codes then, but not now," Buckholts said. "We are going to work on this sprinkler ordinance to eventually get sprinklers in all of our multi-family dwellings. It would have definitely been a big help in this instance."