Fire rips through Dover apartment building

Fire tears through the roof of the Greens at Cedar Chase apartments Tuesday morning. (Special to the Delaware State News/Jon Lloyd Jr.)

DOVER — Jason Luff walked out of his residence at the Greens at Cedar Chase apartments just around 7 o’clock Tuesday morning when he glanced over, smelled smoke and saw flames rising from an adjacent building.

In an instant, he sprinted across an open field to Building F, where the fire was just beginning to spread and tried his best to get the residents’ attention.

“I pulled the alarm and started banging on the doors and tried to get everybody out,” Mr. Luff said. “People were on the balcony screaming all the way up on the third floor and we couldn’t get up to them without a ladder. Then the fire department showed up and was able to get to them. It’s definitely a difficult time.”

Volunteers from the Dover Fire Department responded to the Greens at Cedar Chase fire shortly after 7 a.m., along with firefighters from Cheswold and Smyrna, and paramedics, after dispatch received a fire call at 6:52 a.m.

The apartments are located at 1700 N. DuPont Highway behind the Bob Evans Restaurant.

Firefighters battle Tuesday’s apartment blaze. (Special to the Delaware State News/Jon Lloyd Jr.)

Dover Fire Chief Carleton “Buck” Carey Jr. said firefighters had the blaze under control within 30 minutes, but not before some apartments in the 12-unit building were completely destroyed.

Dover Police officers assisted the firefighters with helping several residents, including three children, escape their apartments on the third floor by climbing down ladders.

“When we arrived the stairwell in the center of the building, all three floors, had fire coming from it and it extended up to the third-floor apartment to the left and got into the attic area,” Mr. Carey said.

“On the right side of the complex we had subjects hanging out the back balconies when we pulled up that we rescued from ground ladders … that was when we first got here.”

During their efforts to extinguish the fire, a pair of firefighters, one from Dover and another from Cheswold, were injured. One of the apartments’ residents also suffered injuries after leaping from a balcony.

All of the injured were taken to Bayhealth’s Kent General Hospital in Dover.

Jason Luff, who lives in an adjacent building to the one that suffered a fire at the Greens at Cedar Chase apartments on Tuesday morning, was one of the first on the scene of the blaze as he pulled fire alarms and banged on residents’ doors. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

Carter Knotts, Dover’s assistant fire chief, said Tuesday evening that the Cheswold firefighter was treated and released and the Dover firefighter was admitted to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

He didn’t have any information regarding the resident’s condition.

“I have one (Dover) firefighter injured where the ceiling collapsed on my first initial crews that went inside,” Mr. Carey said. “As soon as they knocked the fire down the ceiling came down on them. We had him rescued within a minute’s time and he’s at Kent General being observed.

“There was another injury where an occupant of one of the apartments jumped, but we never have figured out what floor they jumped from and somebody, one of the residents, sent them to the hospital by private vehicle.”

The firefighter from Cheswold was injured after being cut by glass while trying to force open a front door, Mr. Carey added.

“They’re investigating right now but it looks like (it started) in the second-floor stairwell,” Dover’s Fire Chief said. “We were very fortunate because we had a little wind this morning and it was going against us, but we were able to get it stopped before (the fire) extended over to the second half of the third floor.

“I would say in about a half hour we had a good knock on it where we knew it wasn’t going to spread any further. It burnt out two complete apartment units up on the third floor, the front and back side.”

The damage is evident after the fire was extinguished. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Mr. Carey added that the entire building would be condemned for some time due to fire and water damage and the affected residents will be displaced. Red Cross arrived on the scene later in the day to assist the residents, who were taken to the apartment complex’s leasing office.

Marisa Moore, the property manager at the Greens at Cedar Chase, refused to answer any questions regarding the fire. The total number of residents who will be displaced was unknown.
‘I’ve had better days’

Gary Lockridge lived in apartment 201 of Building F at the Greens at Cedar Chase. The fire was believed to have ignited in the stairwell just outside his door.

He stood just across the street from his apartment, more than two hours after the fire was put out, and looked on in disbelief.

Mr. Lockridge said that he noticed a sofa, that normally wasn’t there, was outside in the stairwell as he was trying to escape the fire. He thought that was unusual, but wasn’t sure if it was related to the fire or not.

“I’ve had better days,” said Mr. Lockridge, who suffered bruises to his right elbow trying to get out of his door. “When I woke up I heard the alarms and smelled smoke and saw flames coming through where the cable wire is and I tried to put it out. I threw some water on it. Then, where the electric is coming through the wall, I saw the flames coming from that outlet.

“I just looked outside and saw the flames and I just tried to grab some clothes and tried to find my phone and my keys and it was dark in the apartment from the smoke. Then I just ran out.”

Coty Gallagher, who lives in Building K, heard sirens as he was getting ready for work Tuesday morning and realized a neighboring building was burning.

“I saw the face of God (Tuesday) morning,” he said. “I scrambled outside, ran down to the courtyard and could see the ceiling and roof over the stairs was on fire.

“(The apartment complex) was absolutely filled with personnel very quickly. I’m thankful for them.”

Alberta Dixon was amazed at all of the emergency personnel that arrived to extinguish the fire and assist the residents.

“When I woke up this morning all of this was going on,” she said. “The lights went out, that’s what woke me up, and the TV went off. I got up to see what was going on. I didn’t want to be trapped or anything.

“I was worried about my grandson, but he had already gone to school.”

Not the first time

The fire on Tuesday morning at the Greens at Cedar Chase apartments wasn’t the first time a building at the complex suffered major damage in a fire.

On Feb. 9, 2009, a fire started on the third floor of Building J and displaced occupants of 12 apartments

Mary Etheridge said she has been a resident of the Greens at Cedar Chase for about 26 years and remembers the previous fire and said it was much like Tuesday’s blaze.

“It was so eerie being so close,” she said. “With that one that happened (in 2009) I was asleep and then I woke up and saw the aftermath and was like ‘Oh my God!’ All of those people – the whole building – had to leave.

“With (Tuesday’s fire) the flames were shooting up out of the ceiling and stretched all of the way down to the ground floor on the side of the building. That’s why I couldn’t figure out exactly where it started. I don’t know if it worked its way up or it worked its way down.”

Ms. Etheridge was concerned about a neighbor’s dog that was in one of the affected apartments on Tuesday. She knew the neighbor was away from her apartment. Fortunately, she eventually found the dog with a firefighter safe and covered in a blanket

She said Tuesday’s fire was certainly frightening.

“It was so terrifying because I had just woke up and I heard the sirens and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh that’s in here!,’” Ms. Etheridge said. “So I came outside and the flames were shooting up. I thought the trees were going to catch on fire and everything.

“There were flames all down the side of the building already and there was a woman and a baby climbing down a ladder on the other side. I just thank God that it looks like everybody involved will be OK. That’s really all that matters.”

One last look

At around 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning the vast parade of fire equipment began easing out of the apartment complex.

Trucks from the Fire Marshal’s office arrived to investigate and the Red Cross moved in to offer assistance to the dislocated residents.

“The Red Cross has been notified because this building will be condemned for a little while,” Mr. Carey said. “Nobody will be able to live in it at all.”

As for the work of all of the First Responders who participated in the event, he said, “It was all-hands on deck. We don’t get this very often, but everything went very well.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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