Fire guts newly-renovated Chandler Heights building

By Ronald MacArthur

A Sunday-night fire gutted the newly-renovated building two in the Chandler Heights Apartment Complex on Norman Eskridge Highway in Seaford. Residents had moved back into the apartment building less than three months ago following a major $500,000 renovation project. It was the first completed building open to residents during a total renovation at the complex. According to Randy Lee, the chief deputy fire marshal, the fire was started by a child "igniting combustible material with an open flame" in a bedroom of an apartment rented by Betty Cox in the second floor on the southwest corner of the apartment building. The fire spread to the attic area. He said there were no injuries. And according to Ron Marvel, public information officer for the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department, someone tried to put out the fire before calling 911. "Before we got there, some residents tried to extinguish the fire and it caused a delayed response on our part," he said. "It could have determined the eventual outcome of the fire." Marvel is not sure exactly how much time residents fought the blaze, but he estimates it was five to 10 minutes. "In a fire, 10 minutes is a lot of time. When we got there, fire was coming out of the roof." The fire department arrived on the scene just after 7 p.m.; the fire could have started as early as 6:45 p.m., according to Bill Roupp, who is executive director of Better Homes of Seaford (owners of the Chandler Heights complex). The fire put 32 people from the eight, three-bedroom apartment complex out on the street. According to Roupp, the main priority is to find housing for the displaced residents.

"The Red Cross put them up for the first three nights and we are working to see where to go from there," he said on Monday morning as his staff works to assess the damage. "It's not a total loss, but a very huge loss. The city has condemned the building because it's unsafe to walk through most of it. There is smoke and water damage throughout. "I think on the ground floor there is a chance that eventually someone could get in there and get some items," he added. "But everything will have some damage." Roupp said that he feels the shell of the brick building is salvageable as is most of the plumbing and electrical infrastructure, but just about everything else (including the roof) will probably have to be replaced. "We are probably looking at a $450,000 to $650,000 project," he said. Damage to the apartment building has been estimated at $400,000, according to the chief deputy fire marshal. Marvel said that volunteers from Bridgeville, Blades and Laurel assisted members from the Seaford department in fighting the blaze. In all, 125 volunteers answered the alarm and were on the scene from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Seaford volunteers returned for a second alarm from 5 to 6 a.m. to extinguish some hot spots still smoldering in the ruins. The fire comes after water damage suffered following the June 25 storm at Better Homes of Seaford's Virginia Crest senior citizens village off Virginia Avenue. Roupp said that 20 apartments were flooded displacing at least 20 people. He added that about 16 of those have been staying at the Best Western Motel for the past 2 1/2 weeks while their apartments are renovated. He expects the repairs to be complete this week. "It seems we are in the process of depopulating our apartments, which is not our mission," Roupp said.

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