CAROLINA BEACH — A fire of unknown origin forced at least three people to leap from second- and third-story balconies of their condominium homes in Carolina Beach. An eruptive blaze ravaged one 12-unit building Friday afternoon.
Residents of the beach town condo complex, Paradise Cove, said smoke started to emanate from second-floor stairwells before 1 p.m. Minutes later, the sound of an explosive inferno rang through the air.
Backed by personnel from neighboring jurisdictions, Carolina Beach firefighters successfully contained the firestorm to within the single structure of origin, even as sustained wind gusts of up to 20 miles per hour caused flames to jet in different directions.
Medical crews transported four individuals to New Hanover Regional Medical Center; there were no life-threatening injuries reported. All residents of the complex have been accounted for, according to Carolina Beach officials.
Community members re-entered the scene to survey the damage and inspect their homes around 5 p.m. Rubble and at least one mattress were dispersed in the parking lot. Thick layers of ash sat atop many cars, while a handful of other vehicles were deformed or destroyed, with shattered windows and crunched frames.
The N.C. State Bureau of Investigation will assist local agencies in the investigation.
Phil Broom pulled into the driveway of Paradise Cove early Friday afternoon, toward his own condo. He detected a worrisome smell. “Smoke, or like a plastic burning,” he recalled.
Then came the noise. It sounded like an explosion, he said. “I saw flames shooting out of the stairwell.”
Broom made the call for service at 12:59 p.m., according to his cell history, which he showed Port City Daily.
Residents of the building scrambled to evacuate as the condo became wholly engulfed in flames. Beach officials said three people jumped from the upper floors of the structure to escape.
Broom said he assisted one woman who leapt. They took shelter behind the complex’s pool house.
At that point, salvaging the affected building appeared to be a lost cause, Broom commented. He and the woman, whom he said suffered broken bones from the fall, waited only a short time until fire engines arrived.
“Then we pretty much watched it burn,” he said, remarking on the speed of its spread and the loud noises, which the Island Gazette reported was likely vehicle fires.
Meanwhile, in the condo of Lauren Honrine, located in the building adjacent to the blaze, chaos erupted — screaming and barking. Her dog and 15-year-old child had been made nervous by the sight of smoke, then terrified by the thunderous noise, Honrine said.
Honrine said after the explosion-like noise, she mobilized her family and fled to their vehicle.
“It was so hot at that point in the parking lot we could barely get to the car,” she said.
They drove to the next-door Food Lion, though the parking lot of the grocery store soon had to be evacuated. Fire crews occupied it to obtain easier access to a building in Paradise Cove that was at risk of catching fire.
Food Lion, LLC previously owned the land on which Paradise Cove was built, according to property records. After paying $2.76 million for the land in September 2001, Food Lion sold to CB Paradise Cove, LLC in late 2004 for approximately one-quarter the purchase price. Paradise Cove was deeded to a homeowners’ association in 2010.
Another Cove resident — who works night shifts at a technology company and asked not to be identified — was sleeping in his home and awoken by the sound of sirens shortly after 1 p.m.
He hustled to the window, confused about the situation, then saw flames erupting and the approach of fire engines, he said.
He rushed outside, eager to save his car from destruction. Since fire engines had then blocked the entrance and exit, he said, he moved his car as far away from the burn as he could.
Recycling bins and trash cans were melting away from the heat, and the air had become black with smoke and ash.
By 3:30 p.m., drivers still rubbernecked as they passed over Snow’s Cut Bridge. They tried to catch a glimpse of the firefighters blasting water on isolated “hot spots” that refused to be fully extinguished.
County officials hosted a press conference at 4 p.m., while firefighters were able to break for a meal. Carolina Beach Fire Chief Alan Griffin said the 911 call came at 1 p.m.
“There are two main stairwells on the structure and the fire was located in that area,” Griffin said. “All floors seemed to be on fire on the front of the building.”
A week prior, a different condo complex in Carolina Beach caught fire. According to a press release from the Carolina Beach Police Department, the previous fire was unintentional, and “was determined to have started from faulty equipment, and the point of origin was in a bedroom.”
Around 5 p.m. Friday, firefighters began to disengage hoses, and residents were able to return to the property.
In an American Legion building located across the street, the American Red Cross provided support to affected community members. In the Legion’s canteen, a few dozen people gathered for food and drink. One attendee said it was a “going-away party” that had been scheduled weeks in advance.
While the operation winded down, Paradise Cove residents stood outside their doors, sharing stories and gazing at the wreckage. The building in which the fire originated was essentially split in half by flames, with large portions leveled to the ground.
Police, fire crews and the Red Cross were stationed at the site into the night, according to a CBPD official. At the press conference, Griffin, the fire chief, said the investigation began Friday afternoon, once the flames were wrestled under control. The SBI referred all inquiries to Carolina Beach officials, who stated an update may be released Saturday, if new information becomes available.
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