Apartment owner cited after sprinkler system fails in massive fire

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Fire officials have issued two citations against the owner of an apartment complex in Charlotte for failing to have a working sprinkler or fire suppression system.

Two children and their mother were taken to the hospital with minor injuries after a fire broke out in their apartment in uptown Charlotte early Wednesday morning -- destroying 14 units.

The massive fire occurred around 4:15 a.m. at the First Ward Place apartments located in the 600 block of North Davidson Street.

Officials say the sprinkler system in the apartments were not working.

On Friday, the Charlotte Fire Department released a statement which said, "Although the building was equipped with a fixed fire suppression system, it was later determined that it was inoperable at the time of the fire."

After conducting an investigation into the fire and the inoperable fire suppression system, the fire department issued on Thursday two citations totaling $400 for violation of North Carolina State Fire Code section 901.6 or "failure to properly maintain a fire protection and suppression system."

The fire was caused by the improper disposal of charcoal ashes from a hibachi grill and caused an estimated $500,000 to $1,000,000 in damage.

Using a ladder truck, firefighters with the Charlotte Fire Department rescued Ashley Berry and her two children from the balcony of their third-floor apartment. Berry and her children suffered minor injuries. All three were transported to Carolinas Medical Center-Main.

Berry said the fire alarm and sprinklers in her unit did not work. She said she was alerted to the fire after her son started crying.

Once we learned the fire suppression system, or sprinklers, were not working, we spoke with the manager of the apartment complex who refused to comment to us.

Although the fire originated from a hibachi grill located on the balcony of Berry's apartment, she will not be charged.

Fire officials say Berry carried the grill down to the common area of the apartment complex where she used it. Then, she waited a "reasonable" amount of time before hauling the grill back upstairs.

Berry says the grill felt cool, but the fire started anyway after she stored it on her wooden alcove.

Mecklenburg County has an ordinance which states that grills should not be used in multi-family dwellings at all. However, they can be used on the ground level as long as there is 10 feet clearance between the grill and any structure.

Firefighters spotted the blaze while driving by the apartments and reported it to a dispatcher.

According to CFD spokesman Mark Basnight, more than 80 firefighters responded to the scene Wednesday morning.

Fourteen units in the apartment complex were either damaged or destroyed.

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