COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - After two people were found dead and more than 400 residents were asked to leave the Allen Benedict Court Apartments earlier this month after a gas leak was discovered, Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins sent a letter to the Columbia Housing Authority, stating that the fire code and property maintenance were all issues in their investigation of the property.
The letter, obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request on Thursday, was addressed to Columbia Housing Authority Executive Director Gilbert Walker on Jan. 18. In it, Jenkins breaks down his investigation of the Allen Benedict Court property with Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook and Fire Marshal George Adams, Jr.
During their inspection, 10 fire code violations and risks were noted, “a presence of natural gas” they said was “unsafe and a severe risk for the community and the occupants"; outdated, missing, or inactive smoke alarms, exposed wires from the ceiling where smoke alarms should have been, and the strong odor of a petroleum scent and other pungent odor.
Jenkins also listed nine property maintenance violations and risks, including several stoves leaking gas and outdated stoves.
During the inspection, Jenkins writes that there were "63 apartments with carbon monoxide or natural gas detected, 411 individuals evacuated, and 17 pets evacuated."
“Due to the severity of the noted deficiencies, it has been determined that all buildings in this location are unsafe,” the letter says. “The conditions as outlined at Allen Benedict Court constitute a clear and imminent threat to human life, safety, or health in accordance with the International Fire Code section 110.1 and the Property Maintenance Code section 109.1.”
Jenkins then writes that “the most significant violations were the presences in all 26 buildings, of natural gas and carbon monoxide.”
Follow-up inspections and risk assessment will be made by the city to see if residents can return.
Columbia City Councilman Moe Baddurah, in a letter to Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and other councilmembers, asked for the resignation of Columbia Housing Authority officials, saying the events unfolding at Allen Benedict Court Apartments were avoidable.
Two people were found dead in apartments on Jan. 17. The Richland County Coroner’s Office has not confirmed if their deaths are related to the natural gas leak that was discovered and led to the displacement of 211 families from the apartments.
You can read the full letter here: