For Weld’s initial coverage of the Chalet apartment complex fire, see here.
A plaintive beeping wailed through the quiet morning Tuesday, May 26.
“That smoke detector’s still working,” said Thomas N. Carruthers, principal owner with Red Rock Realty Group, indicating Apartment 2 with a grim smile. “Must be a Duracell battery.”
A small contingent of Red Rock representatives stood outside the charred 17th Avenue façade of the Chalet apartment complex on the Southside waiting for an investigator to arrive and determine the cause of the blaze that nearly destroyed the Red Rock property.
The fire broke out at The Chalet apartment complex on 1301 17th Avenue S. at approximately 2 p.m. on Memorial Day. The entire building suffered heavy damages and at least one person was hospitalized. The second and third stories of the building are in ruins, and in some areas completely disintegrated.
Birmingham Fire and Rescue Services finally extinguished the blaze late Monday evening using an aerial ladder platform. The most intense flames raged for more than two hours. Alabama Power Company arrived on the scene and at 3:30 p.m. cut power to that block of Southside in the UAB Highlands neighborhood. The 12th Street entrance to 17th Avenue was blocked off by B.P.D., but is now clear to traffic.
Don Barnes, Red Rock Realty property manager, said that it was a relief most of the apartment-dwellers were out of town for Memorial Day weekend. Red Rock has contacted all the out-of-town residents, according to Barnes. Only one injury has been reported, he added, and the injured party was reported to be in stable condition.
Residents of the Chalet who were at home when the fire broke out reported Monday evening that they believe the blaze started as a kitchen fire, but Barnes explained the cause cannot be confirmed until the investigator and fire chief issue a report to be released later in the week.
Dozens of Chalet dwellers have been displaced, according to Barnes, but the Birmingham Chapter of the American Red Cross aided two of the residents in finding sleeping arrangements Monday evening. Red Cross volunteers arrived on the scene to hand out water, Gatorade and help displaced residents find shelter for the night while firefighters snubbed out the last of the flames.
“We are helping the people who lived here find other places to live,” Carruthers said on behalf of Red Rock. He revealed that Chalet residents would be reimbursed for some portion of their expenses while living at the complex. Carruthers also confirmed that each unit was equipped with extinguishers and alarms.
In the rear of the building, Birmingham city inspectors Philanders Plump and Thurman Page explored the wreckage and posted red warning signs on every apartment’s door stating that the three-story property is unsafe to enter. Even the two outwardly undamaged units could have severe water and smoke damage, Barnes explained. Several people had already stopped by in an attempt to retrieve personal items from their former homes and were turned away, Barnes said.
The parking lot behind the Chalet was littered with debris: roofing nails, blackened fallen timber, broken glass and abandoned fire extinguishers.
“I’ve worked with Red Rock for 26 years,” Barnes said looking up at the scorched siding. “I’ve seen a few of these, and each time it’s just terrible.”
As witnessed on Memorial Day evening, the community in this section of Southside appears to be pulling together to help their neighbors in need for now.
What’s next in the aftermath is not clear.
Standing beside a State Farm agent, Barnes explained that nothing can be decided before the investigator, the fire marshal and B.P.D. collaborate to determine the actual cause of the fire.
To find about volunteering with Birmingham’s chapter of the American Red Cross and to send donations to families and individuals who are currently homeless after the blaze, visit redcross.org.