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SFD: ‘smoking materials’ on a balcony caused Little Lotts fire
No evidence of malicious intent in any of 4 recent fires
whitesville fire
In this file photo, this mobile home belonging to Jon and Iris Brack in the Whitesville neighborhood was reduced to a burned-out shell by a fire Wednesday morning. Investigators have determined that this and several other recent fires are unrelated and there is no evidence of suspicious intent in any of the blazes. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

Investigators have determined that the March 29 fire that displaced 20 families at Little Lotts Creek Apartments was caused by improper disposal of smoking materials on a balcony, and this and three other recent fires were unrelated, Statesboro’s fire chief reported Thursday.

“The Statesboro Fire Department attempts to determine the cause and origin of every building fire, and at this time, there is no indication that the most recent fires at Little Lotts Creek, Lanier Drive, South Walnut Street or Joyce Street are related.” SFD Chief Timothy Grams said in a media release. “Cause and origin investigations have been concluded for all of these fires, and we have no evidence or reason to suspect malicious intent.”

In a previous interview, Grams suggested that heightened media attention since the Little Lotts Creek Apartments fire and about efforts to assist displaced residents was the only factor uniting the recent fires. Thursday’s release stated that “recent public attention and interest have caused some to speculate” about factors “influencing the amount and types of calls” but that the number of incidents was not unusual.

No injuries were reported in any of the four fires summarized.


A $1.15 million fire

By far the most significant of these fires was the one in Building C at Little Lotts Creek Apartments, for which the first call to the Statesboro Fire Department came at about 9:10 a.m. March 29.

The department’s detailed incident report, completed April 1 and obtained by the Statesboro Herald through an open records request Friday, gives a rough estimate of $1 million for the loss to the building and $150,000 for the value of lost contents. As previously reported, all 63 residents, including 40 children, were displaced after the 20 apartments in the three-story building were evacuated and the electricity, water and natural gas lines were disconnected.

Grams in his Thursday release for the first time publicly identified the apparent cause of the fire. He previously noted that it was under investigation by a state fire marshal, as well as the SFD’s investigators. Coordinating their efforts, they determined that the fire started on the third-floor balcony due to “improper disposal of smoking materials,” Grams stated in the release.

Phoned in follow-up, he confirmed that this meant someone had been smoking something such as a cigarette or cigar and left materials on a balcony. The balcony is on the rear of the building, where a portion of the roof burned away.

In the  incident report, another ranking SFD firefighter had reported finding both “evidence of cigarette smoking” in the apartment that adjoins the balcony and “an electrical receptacle … present it the area of origin,” but added that he  did not “dig around” because the State Fire Marshal’s Office would have jurisdiction.

Building C had working smoke detectors that alerted occupants, who responded by getting out. But a sprinkler system, also present, did not activate, the SFD incident report stated. One ranking firefighter’s narrative, included in the report, stated that the sprinkler system’s piping ruptured, contributing, along with firefighting hoses, to the amount of water on the floors.

The 12 apartments in the middle of the building were seriously damaged and will have to be completely reconstructed, said Little Lotts Creek Apartments site manager Katherine Parks. But efforts were underway this week to determine whether residents may be able to return to the outer eight apartments soon.


South Walnut St.

Thursday’s media release also identified a cause, for the first time, of a fire that occurred Monday, April 5, in an officially vacant, small apartment building at 232 South Walnut St. Reported about 10:35 p.m., this blaze “was extinguished with heavy fire damage to the structure,” the release stated.

Unlike the Little Lotts Creek Apartments fire, for which a State Fire Marshal’s Office investigation was required because of the number of floors and families in the building, the SFD alone was in charge of investigating the Walnut Street fire, Grams had explained.

“A cause and origin investigator was notified and determined that the structure had been boarded up and vacant for a period of time,” stated the Thursday release. “Investigators determined the cause of the fire to be most likely due to improper cooking and/or heating by vagrants.”

Investigators found vegetables and an area where someone appeared to have been cooking in the building and “some other signs that folks were living there,” Grams said on the phone.

As previously reported, this building was included, along with neighboring 231 South Main St., in a zoning change and variance approved by City Council in February. At that time, the owners, who have since completed renovations to the larger South Main Street building, planned to tear the Walnut Street building down  to make room for more new housing units.


Lanier Drive

A fire at Eagle Court Condos on Lanier Drive reported at approximately 4:05 a.m. April 5 started in a clothes dryer in a bathroom, and was quickly extinguished. The cause was determined to be “faulty electrical equipment,” namely the dryer, “with no contributing factors from residents,” the SFD release stated.


Joyce Street

As noted in the previous edition, a fire reported at approximately 8:05 a.m. Wednesday largely destroyed a mobile home belonging to Jon and Iris Brack on Joyce Street in the Whitesville community, which is a part of Statesboro.

“The fire was extinguished quickly, but the home sustained substantial damage,” the SFD release stated. “The cause and origin was determined to be a faulty electrical outlet in a bedroom.”

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