Apartment fire injures 3 firefighters, forces 11 families from their homes in Savannah

Apartment fire injures 3 firefighters, forces 11 families from their homes in Savannah
Source: Coastal News Service

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - All firefighters injured while battling a blaze at a Savannah apartment complex Saturday have been released from the hospital, according to Chatham Emergency Services.

Three firefighters were injured while working a massive fire caused by a lightning strike at the Liberty Oaks Apartments on Saturday that displaced 11 families, according to Chatham Emergency Services CEO Chuck Kearns.

One firefighter was injured after a roof collapsed on him. A second firefighter received first and second degree burns, while a third firefighter suffered from third degree burns.

One of those firefighters was taken to the Burn Center in Augusta.

Multiple fire engines from Chatham Fire and Savannah Fire worked to contain the huge blaze. A search and rescue team checked to make sure no one was inside of the building.

The Red Cross Executive Director told WTOC that volunteers helped provide emergency financial assistance to all 11 families. A total of 13 adults and 17 children were left without homes after the fire. Red Cross caseworkers say each family did have a place to stay.

“The lightning struck the corner of the building and found its way to a metal roof strap that connects the roof to the rest of the building for high winds to keep the roof from blowing off,” Kearns said. “Its just some construction stuff. It followed that piece of metal down the wall where the fire smoldered for a while, and it went back up. Once it got up into the attic where there was fresh air, it took off.”

Esther Sheppard with the American Red Cross says while they provide financial assistance and shelter, they also offer the mental help they need if they are having a tough time dealing with such a great loss.

“We work with the school system asking them to make sure they reach out to the guidance counselors," Sheppard said. "If they need school uniforms because those types of things that they’ve lost that are very hard to replace. The kids just went back to school so you can imagine they had those things that are tough so we wanna make sure they are partnering with the right agencies for clothing for food...for mental support as well as for replacing government IDs.”

Onlookers stood around and watched for hours.

One woman’s mother lived in the building and spoke with WTOC about the fire.

“After they were telling her to move back even further and we just got a little worried so we drove here just to make sure that she was okay and to see the extent of everything,” Marquitta Steele said.

She says her mom saw the lightning hit the building.

“She saw lightning come through her bedroom window and shortly after that, she smelled smoke or saw smoke outside and she came out to inquire about it and at that time, the officers were coming around to the doors and knocking on the doors telling everybody to get out," Steele said.

“We were scared because we didn’t know if they were alright."

JayLeah Steele says she worried about her birds she and her grandma share, but the fireman rescued them. “I was really happy because I love the birds and I don’t know what I would do without them.”

Another man we spoke to says he and his wife have called Liberty Oaks home for more than six years, and now they’ve lost everything and are staying with a relative.

“I pulled up around 2:25 and noticed several firefighters out there, and I noticed that my building was on fire; the whole roof," Pacman Jones.

Jones says he and his wife are living with their mom for the time being. He says while they are happy everyone was okay, they lost something that meant a lot to them: their pets.

“I met a guy with a red shirt on. Maintenance was there to help him kick the door down and he got my small brown dog but couldn’t save my black dog that was lost in the fire, so that’s what I was worried about - not my material things," Jones said.

He says the scene was so chaotic that his brown dog ended up running away.

Now he says he and his wife have to start from nothing and rebuild, but he says they will do it with a smile.

“It’s funny because this is the best I’ve felt the whole past few days this has been going on. I’ve just been praying to God and just been keeping my head held high.”

WTOC has reached out to the corporate office for Liberty Oaks Apartments to learn what is next for the building and if the residents will be able to move back into other units, but we haven’t heard back.

This apartment complex has seen its fair share of fires. In July of 2017, a family was displaced after a fire on a third floor balcony. In June 2016, 10 people were displaced after a cooking fire set off the fire alarms and sprinkler system. And in December 2015, firefighters responded to a fire call in the 500 building.

Liberty Oaks Apartments was formerly known as The Oaks at Brandlewood.

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