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THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2007
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Decatur firefighters put out a fire that started in Amber Rollins' kitchen in her downstairs apartment at Austin Villa in Southwest Decatur.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Decatur firefighters put out a fire that started in Amber Rollins' kitchen in her downstairs apartment at Austin Villa in Southwest Decatur.

Blaze damages apartment complex
Morning fire displaces 8 families at Austin Villa

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

Wednesday was Amber Rollins' 37th birthday, a day for building good memories.

Instead, she stood near her burned-out, first-floor residence at Austin Villa Apartments on Austinville Road Southwest and thought of memories lost.

"We lost everything," she said. "But what can't be replaced are photos of my mother, who died in 2000, the kids' baby pictures, my baby pictures and trophies my son, Dante Rollins, won last year (2005) as quarterback of R.A. Hubbard's football team."

Tammy Kirkpatrick, who manages both Austin Villa and Regency West Apartments on Carridale Street Southwest, said fire, smoke and water damage displaced residents in eight apartments at the west corner of the complex. She said no one was injured.

"We are putting in fans now and pulling the smoke out," Kirkpatrick said Wednesday morning from the scene. "Four apartments are totaled and are going to be down for a while. We'll get in the others that have only smoke damage and start cleaning up and repainting."

Kirkpatrick said she has 48 units at Austin Villa and 64 units at Regency West, all occupied.

"But I'll check with apartments elsewhere and try to locate places for those needing assistance," she said.

Kirkpatrick said security officers from Regency West riding past Austin Villa saw smoke and phoned 911.

Lt. Dusty Cheatham of Decatur Fire and Rescue, Station 5, said the call came about 9:28 a.m.

"Five stations and between 20 and 25 firefighters responded," Cheatham said.

He said the fire originated in the kitchen of apartment 29, where Rollins lives.

"We had Decatur Utilities to turn off the power in five apartments," Cheatham said. "In addition to the damage in apartment 29, we had to pull the ceiling in two other apartments to get into the attic and we had to breach some walls in two others to put out the fire that was inside the walls."

Cheatham said firefighters cleared the scene about noon.

Rollins said she lives in the apartment with her son, Dante, and her nephew, Javonne Sears, 19. She said she was on her job in receiving at Wayne Farms when Kirkpatrick phoned her.

"She said something might have been left on the stove," Rollins said, "because she said the fire started in my kitchen."

But Sears, who said he was the last one to leave the apartment about 10 minutes before the fire, said no one had been cooking.

Rollins said her son had left earlier for the basketball tournament at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville to cheer his girlfriend, who plays for R.A. Hubbard High School.

She said that for the time she and her son will probably stay with a cousin or a friend. Sears said he would probably move in with his grandfather, Eddie Sears, who lives on 13th Avenue Northwest.

Mike Stevenson, 31, who works at nearby Food Plus, lives alone in the first-floor apartment across from Rollins.

"My boss told me to take a break and come over and do my laundry," he said. "I came outside, sat down the hamper, and went back in to get laundry soap and my cell phone, and to lock up. I didn't make it. I heard the smoke alarm in the apartments above and smoke was pouring out my door."

Stevenson said others lived in the second-floor apartments.

"They work third shift and were asleep when the fire started," he said.

Kevin Randolph of Decatur Emergency Medical Services said he, Alan Gastler and Andrea Gillespie were driving on Carridale Street "when the call came over our radios. We were 30 seconds away and were first on the scene."

Gillespie said flames were coming from the backside of the apartments when they arrived.

"We immediately began knocking on doors to make sure everyone got out," she said.

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