Dozens of seniors return to their apartments after fire leaves them temporarily without a place to stay

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Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 10:52 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Dozens of seniors in Columbia are returning to their apartments after they were without a place to stay Sunday night.

This comes after a fire at Christopher Towers, a senior apartment building. The fire caused significant water damage.

It started shortly before 5 P.M. on Sunday night at the high-rise in the Five Points neighborhood.

As of 6 P.M. Monday, the majority of tenants can return to their apartments, according to the Columbia-Richland Fire Department.

Of the nearly 60 people who were displaced, all but four will come back to the building Monday evening.

The fire broke out when a candle fell onto a couch in a unit on the 17th floor, and fire damages were confined to that unit, Columbia-Richland Fire Department Public Information Officer Mike DeSumma said.

It activated the sprinkler system, which got the fire under control before firefighters arrived.

However, it also left water flowing through several floors.

“I’m thankful that I could get out of it because I was tripping over wet towels last night in the dark,” Kay Livingston, a displaced tenant, said.

The fire also affected the building’s electrical system.

“We stress the importance of smoke alarms and making sure they’re in working order, but sprinkler systems are another very important asset,” DeSumma said. “In this case, the sprinkler system worked, it did its job in terms of keeping a check on that fire until our personnel were able to get on the scene. You know, crucial minutes pass as we’re getting to the scene of a fire, and having that sprinkler system in place to keep that fire in check really did a lot for us in terms of keeping the situation somewhat under control until we could get there.”

The Red Cross of South Carolina opened a shelter on Gervais Street for those affected.

“Sheltering is at the heart of what the American Red Cross does,” said Mandy McMahon.

The organization says around 25 people slept on cots there on Sunday night.

“Here we’re able to meet all of their needs and make sure that we’re replacing medications that they might not have with them, that we’re able to get them the resources that they need,” McMahon said. “And because there’s such a large number of people that needed assistance, we’re able to care for them in what we call our mass care function.”

Accommodations were even made for Ruth Stuckey’s dog Tiger.

“Really, truthfully dogs have feelings too,” she said. “And I couldn’t leave him in no dark apartment.”

Livingston said it was a sleepless night at the shelter, but she’s grateful for the Red Cross’ assistance.

“I’m very glad that no one was seriously hurt and that regardless of whatever happens at the building, we will have a place to stay,” she said.

The tenant who lives in the unit where the fire started did have minor injuries, but she is okay.

The Columbia Richland Fire department is currently working with a third-party electrician who is inspecting the remaining units, and determining when those people can return to their apartments.

Matthew Neely, Vice President of Multifamily Select Inc., Christopher Towers’ management company, commended the coordination of all parties involved, including the building’s staff, the Red Cross, the Columbia Richland Fire Department, and the tenants’ association, which ensure that the transport and shelter of the tenants went as smoothly as possible.

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