NEW BERN, CRAVEN COUNTY - Investigators have determined the cause of the apartment fire that displaced eight families in New Bern Wednesday.
According to Colleen M. Roberts, the public information officer for the City of New Bern, children playing with a lighter caused the fire at Cooper's Landing, located on the 1200 block of Simmons Street next to the railroad tracks.
The fire started at about 10 a.m. Wednesday. Everyone was able to get out safely, officials said.
In all, 38 people living in eight apartment units are displaced, the Red Cross said. Of the eight families, five consist of Burmese refugees, said fire officials.
NewsChannel 12 spoke with a victim who had lived at the apartment complex for more than 10 years. This mother, who wished to remain anonymous, said she ran out with only her night gown on.
"When he knocked on my door he said, 'You need to get out right away. There's a fire in the building'," the victim said.
A neighbor then let her borrow a pair of slippers and a bathrobe.
"I can't describe how I feel. I'm disgusted. I'm mad," the victim said.
The Red Cross opened a temporary shelter at Faith United Methodist Church in New Bern Wednesday evening. The victims will have the option to stay there until alternate housing are available. Several other victims are staying at a local hotel.
Only one building caught fire. But eight apartment units within that building were destroyed, said maintenance worker Charles Renda.
"I started dialing 911 and then I started running around to the building just to make sure everybody was okay," Renda said.
Flames and heavy smoke were seen coming from the entire top floor of the apartment building.
Fire officials said no one was injured. The City of New Bern tweeted that all residents at the complex are safe and accounted for.
"Our first course of action was to make sure everyone got out," said New Bern Fire Rescue Chief Bobby Aster. "Once we completed a sweep of all eight units, then we started attacking the flames."
Firefighters were able to contain the flames within minutes, and extinguished the fire in about 45 minutes, according to New Bern Fire Rescue. Crews spent several more hours taking care of hot sports.
Because temperatures were close to 90 degrees at the time, firefighters were forced to work in shifts.
"They're spent," said Chief Aster. "Thankfully, they suffered no injuries or heat-related illness, but the temperatures alone caused us to call for additional units. In situations like these, with the weather and all the gear they're carrying, they need relief quickly."
In all, 45 firefighters, including crews from Little Swift Creek VFD, West New Bern VFD, and Township 7 VFD responded to the scene.