Durham ablaze

Three downtown buildings catch fire

By Rachel Follender
On February 5, 2013

  • A barn located behind Durham Community Church was engulfed in flames, destroying most of the building this weekend. The Durham Fire Department is currently working with the police department to determine the causes of the fires. Justin Doubleday/Staff

After a fire left a gaping hole in Evan Orlando's bedroom wall early Saturday morning, he and his roommate will be walking to their classes this week from the Durham Holiday Inn, where they are currently residing. 

"I was in my apartment sitting on the couch and smelled burning," Orlando said. "I was shocked, I didn't understand how a fire started."

The fire at Orlando's 20 Main St. apartment was the second of three fires that occurred in Durham early Saturday morning, all within extremely close proximity. Officials were dispatched to 15 Main St. at 1:08 a.m., where a mattress fire had been reported. Fire Chief Corey Landry said that no one was injured.

At 2:49 a.m., the Durham Fire Department received Orlando's emergency phone call that his apartment had caught fire. Shortly after, other residents in the building were evacuated and the flames were put out.

The fire started on the outside of the rear end of the house and burned through the wall into the bedroom, according to the Durham Fire Department. Orlando said that his apartment still smells heavily of smoke but that, for now, he enjoys staying at the Holiday Inn.

"We will be staying here for several more days," he said. 

Residents at 4 Smith Park Lane have been relocated as well due to a third and much larger fire at the apartment that occurred less than an hour after officials arrived at 20 Main St. Durham Fire Department units were still operating at 20 Main St. when they received the third emergency dispatch at 3:30 a.m.

Loud explosions were heard as the fire fully engulfed a barn, which caused it to collapse, according to the Durham Fire Department. Landry said that no one was injured in the fire.

"The barn burned off and people lived in the connecting apartments," Landry said. "There was at least one person home, but everybody got out safely."

All three fires are currently under investigation, but there have not yet been any suspects brought in for questioning. Orlando said that he believes the circumstances are suspicious. 

"I think it was arson because there is no way those fires started naturally," Orlando said. "It was too cold and wet outside."

Landry said that as of now there is not enough information to determine the cause of the fires, but that the close proximity of the three fires raises questions.

"It absolutely raises a red flag, but we are treating them as individual fires right now," he said. "We have to look at it from all aspects." 

Landry said that the Durham Fire Department is working with the Durham Police Department on the investigation, which could take days or even weeks to thoroughly complete.

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