Cigarette was probable cause of Carolina Beach condo fire, chief alludes

Residents of Paradise Cove watch as firefighters continue to subdue the flames. After weeks of investigation, the Carolina Beach fire chief released a statement saying the fire broke out in the smoking area. (Port City Daily/ Preston Lennon)

CAROLINA BEACH—Two weeks ago a devastating fire broke out at a Carolina Beach condominium complex, forcing some residents to jump from upper-story balconies due to the speed at which heat and flames overtook the building.

Carolina Beach Fire Chief Alan Griffin released a statement Thursday evening on the progress of the investigation. 

“Investigators currently have no data to support an intentionally set fire, mechanical failure, or any building feature that would have contributed to the start of the fire,” according to Griffin’s statement.


Griffin alluded to the idea that a resident smoking a cigarette in the outdoor common area caused the blaze to first ignite. The State Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms are involved in the investigation alongside Carolina Beach officials. 

“The investigators are in the process of finalizing all the evidence and data and are not making an official ruling on the fire cause at this time,” according to the statement. 

[Carolina Beach condo fire leaves building in ruin and residents scarred, cause unknown]

The fire started in a common area where Paradise Grove occupants would smoke, according to the statement. Investigators came to that conclusion through “video footage and eyewitness accounts.” 

“Investigators confirmed there were multiple residents who had smoked on the property the day of the fire,” Griffin noted. 

Wind gusts of up to 30mph dispersed flames beyond the common area as the fire was in its early stages. According to the statement from investigators, this unfortunately occurred in an area with no fire sprinklers or smoke detectors, which meant all the stairways were quickly blocked by the heat.

The fire claimed one building in the complex. Medical crews transported four individuals to New Hanover Regional Medical Center; there were no life-threatening injuries reported. All residents of the complex were accounted for, according to Carolina Beach officials. 

In the aftermath, residents of the complex said it appeared the fire started in the stairwell of the building. Shortly after smoke began to billow into the sky, an explosion-like noise sounded in the air, which was followed by an even quicker spread of flames, residents said.

Griffin and the investigation team stop short of blaming the fire on a smoke break gone wrong, but make it appear that the cigarette scenario is presently what investigators believe to be the most likely cause.

Firefighters responded a few minutes after the call for service was made at 12:59 p.m. They were able to contain the blaze to within the building of origin, despite bursts of wind that scattered embers continuously into neighboring buildings throughout the early afternoon. 

619 Spencer Farlow Dr Update 3 by preston lennon on Scribd

A firefighter targets a “hot spot” that continues to burn at Paradise Cove in Carolina Beach. (Port City Daily/ Preston Lennon)
The fire was contained to one building in the condo complex. One resident who called 911 said flames shot out from the second story windows around 1 p.m. (Port City Daily/ Preston Lennon)
The destroyed structure was previously one single building before an explosive fire obliterated these 12 units at a Carolina Beach condominium complex. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

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