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Apartment building inspected 50 times before blaze

Firefighters battle a five-alarm fire burning an apartment building and surrounding structures in downtown Raleigh, N.C., Thursday night, March 16, 2017. Fire was consuming an apartment building under construction. The cause of the fire is under investigation. (Chris Seward/The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — An apartment building under construction in North Carolina’s capital city had been inspected 50 times, most recently on Monday, before it went up in flames near an entertainment district, the fire chief said Friday.

Several other buildings were damaged by the fire that broke out in Raleigh Thursday night, some of them severely, Raleigh Fire Chief John McGrath said at a news conference. One firefighter suffered minor injuries and five people were treated for smoke inhalation, he said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The building’s wood-framed construction burned quickly, McGrath said. He said the structure had been inspected 50 times and met all code requirements.

“Unfortunately, this building is at the stage when it was extremely vulnerable, before sprinkle systems got in, fire resistant walls were put up,” the fire chief said.

The fire began shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday in the six-story building in downtown Raleigh, a city in the eastern part of the state. The fire was under control about three hours later, although smoke was still rising as firefighters continued pouring water late Friday morning on wreckage that had collapsed to the ground.

Accountant Brent Williams and retirement planner Robert Devay, both 26, said between water damage from sprinklers and the heat of the burning building about 50 yards across the street, they’d probably lost most of what they owned in the two-bedroom apartment they shared. They were watching the NCAA basketball tournament on television when they saw the flames and went for a better look.

“We were watching it from my room because it got too hot to be on the balcony and the window popped in from the fire,” Williams said. “So we decided we should probably leave. So we came downstairs and the police came in and kicked everybody out of the building.”

Their six-story apartment building’s pale green paint was scorched a dark brown by the blaze and many windows were open to the cold, clear air. Williams said they took nothing but what they were wearing.

Seventeen floors of another building across the street from the blaze were also damaged, fire officials said.

“You don’t expect to walk outside and see a towering inferno,” Scott Shook, president of the North Carolina Community Colleges Board, who was eating dinner at a nearby restaurant, told The News & Observer of Raleigh.

Plumbing supervisor Joe Meads of Burlington said his crews were working earlier Thursday inside the apartment building, which he estimated was about half completed. All had left for the day hours before the fire was reported, he said as he marveled at the sagging frame remains of the construction crane that Thursday reached about 10 stories above the site.

The building was designed for upper-middle income tenants attracted by the nearby Glenwood South entertainment district and easy walks to work in downtown offices.

The building that burned was supposed to have about 240 studio and one- and two-bedroom apartments.


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