The final report on the fire on May 12 at 3100 Summit Ave., which resulted in the deaths of five young children, has been released.
Some people have implied that the owners of the apartment building are in part responsible for the fire, but the official report does not bear that out. Since the fire, 41 apartments in the complex owned by Arco Realty Co. have been condemned and the City Council voted to allocate $45,000 to assist the families living there with moving expenses.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said that the fire gave the city the right to go in and inspect that building and that led to the condemnation. She said she’d like remind renters that if they have problems with a rental unit not being repaired they can call the city as well as the landlord, but, if nobody calls, the city doesn’t currently have the authority to go in an inspect rental units.
According to the report, the cause of the fire, which was reported at 3:54 a.m. on Saturday, May 12, was food left on the left front burner of the electric stove that was on. The Fire Department found no faulty wiring that could have caused the fire and, although the stove was heavily damaged in the fire, found no problems with the stove that would have caused a fire. According to an invoice provided to the Fire Department, the stove was purchased and installed on Nov. 15, 2017.
It is a tragic accident and a tragic loss of life, but according to the official fire report, it was an accident.
The report states, “the fire was Accidental due to unattended cooking. The area of origin was the stove and the point of origin was the left front eye. Radiate heat from the operation of the stove ignited organic materials causing the fire. Flames extended vertically from the stove and horizontally across the ceiling until the apartment was consumed in an atmosphere that was immediately dangerous to life and health.”
According to the report, the father of the five children who died, Mugabo Emmanuel – the only survivor of the fire – told investigators through an interpreter that after he arrived home from work he went to his parents’ home to eat, due to issues with the stove in his apartment. He said that when he went home he didn’t go in the kitchen because he had already eaten. When asked about previous statement attributed to him, he denied making any statements about fireballs coming out from behind the stove or the stove smoking. He did say the stove turned off and on by itself. He also denied unplugging and plugging the stove back in.
He said he got back home at about 11 p.m. Part of the report is redacted but it appears he bathed the children and then they all went to bed, Emmanuel taking one of the children with him to his bedroom.
The report states that he said he was asleep upstairs when the smoke and everyone coughing woke him up. The Greensboro Police Department reported that he had jumped out of a second story window. However, Emanuel told the fire investigators he made his way downstairs but could not get the front door open so he went out through the living room window, which the fire report states was broken. He said he wanted to alert his neighbors so they could help. According to the report he said, “Someone else called 911. I didn’t try to go back inside.”
Emmanuel’s wife, Furaha Lucy – the mother of the five children who died – was at work when the fire broke out. She got off work at 3 a.m. and arrived at their residence at about 4 a.m.
When she was interviewed, she said that she had not been in the kitchen in about a week. She said that on Friday, when her sister-in-law brought over the pot of food that according to the report caused the fire, it was time for her to go to work and she could not remember where she put the pot of food or if any knobs on the stove were on. Her sister-in-law told investigators she had been cooking for them for about a week.
Issues with a lamp in the living room tripping a breaker were noted by Emmanuel and appear on the repair log for Arco. The notation states, “03/05/2018 – Lamp in living room was tripping breaker. I told them not to use the lamp.”
The apartment was inspected by an electrician and the report states, “Issues were noted relating to electrical code violations, but nothing noted that would point to an electrical malfunction as a fire cause.”
The work orders for the apartment complex show that, on March 7, a bad range breaker was replaced and on March 15 the power was checked and everything was working. That was the last documented complaint and work order for the stove.
The fire report states, “There were no indicators that a malfunction of the stove was an ignition source.”
Emmanuel told investigators that no smoke alarms activated and there were no smoke alarms in the apartment. The report notes a carbon monoxide detector and two smoke alarms were in the house, one with a battery still in it, but all were so heavily damaged by the fire that the investigators could not determine if they had worked.
Emmanuel said that he had talked to Irene Agapion-Martinez, the owner of the property, about the stove and she had it repaired. He also said that a week before the fire he had reported two problems in the bathroom with the toilet and a bath handle and, according to the report they were repaired on May 11. But Emmanuel told investigators they did nothing about the stove so he called the office to report the stove had not been repaired. Arco reported no record of this complaint about the stove.