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Officers raced into burning building to save lives

Flames engulfed one of the buildings at the Sixth Avenue Apartments at 3 a.m. Sunday. [CONTRIBUTED IMAGE] Flames engulfed one of the buildings at the Sixth Avenue Apartments at 3 a.m. Sunday. [CONTRIBUTED IMAGE]

A predawn fire engulfed an eight-unit apartment building on Sixth Avenue early Sunday, endangering residents who were inside sleeping when the blaze swept through. Thanks to the quick response of Hendersonville police officers and firefighters from four departments, everyone got out and no one was hurt. Firefighters were able to rescue a dog and a cat as well.

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“It was like so raging,” said Marta, who lives in another of the apartment buildings in the Sixth Avenue Apartments between U.S. 64 and the back of the post office on Fifth Avenue West. She did not want her last name used. “For over an hour and a half we were standing outside. My apartment, everything smells like smoke.”

Marta said her boyfriend got up at 3 o’clock in the morning and immediately saw the flames.
“He could see red light in our window,” she said. “It was super bright, so we came outside to see what was going on and the place was just up in flames. That’s where most of the flames were and then it spread to either side. I heard that everybody got out.”

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After a police officer on patrol reported the blaze at 3:15, the fire department was dispatched at 3:16 and on the scene two minutes later, said Hendersonville Fire Chief Joe Vindigni.
“When they arrived on scene fire was already in the attic, it had already ran the whole length of the building so the whole attic area, division 2 second floor was pretty much fully involved,” he said. “We laid 5-inch lines for water supply and then we called different departments to assist because of the size of the fire.”
City police officers arrived even before firefighters and raced through the two story building banging on doors and getting people out.

Sgt. Bruce Darrah, who was driving by on Sixth Avenue, saw smoke pouring from the roof and called the fire in, Capt. Bruce Simonds said on Monday.

“I was working on Main Street when I heard the whole thing,” said Simonds, who was on off-duty work protecting the Art on Main exhibits overnight. “He immediately when into the burning building and started beating on doors and getting people out.

Officers Michelle Hoyle and Jeffery Childress arrived in minutes and raced into the building next to the one on fire to get people out. Lt. Dale Patton and Officer Josh Buckman also assisted in the evacuation.

“Once the fire department arrived they set up in assist mode and kept people from driving hoses, pulling hoses for the fire department and that sort of thing,” he said.

“They did a tremendous job saving some lives that night,” Simonds added. “They actually evacuated all of the apartments around there. They did an awesome job. I’m very proud of them. So is the chief. I’m in the middle of writing a commendation for them right now.”

Vindigni credited the officers with saving lives.

“They started evacuating people before we got here. That really made a big difference getting everybody out of the building,” he said.

The only lives remaining inside were two pets.

“We actually pulled out a cat and a dog from the structure and got those back with their owners,” Vindigni said.
Firefighters got the fire under control one hour after they arrived, at 4:16 a.m.

It’s not expected that the brick-and-frame structure can be repaired. The fire burned through roof from end to end and caused extensive damage throughout.
“There’s significant fire damage in the attic access and of course all the second floor and there’s significant water damage all on the first floor,” Vindigni said. “But the important thing, none of the occupants were hurt, no fatalities, none of the firefighters were injured during the fire.”
City fire marshal Justin Ward is investigating.
“We’re confident it started on the second floor in the center somewhere,” Vindigni said. “We’re just not a hundred percent sure which one yet. We’re hoping we can kind of pinpoint that in the next couple of hours.”
He said it was too early to say whether the cause may have been related to an overnight cold snap that plunged lows into the 40s.
“No, not yet. The damage is so significant up there that it’s going to take us a while to kind of break through the debris,” he said. “Nothing like that at this time.”
Bill Grieme, who was staying in a downstairs apartment, got out safely with his girldfriend.
“There’s a lot of water damage,” he said. “Red Cross has been out here helping people out, offering a hotel and all that. We’re fine.”
“They got all the cats and dogs out,” said Amanda Govern, who came to the scene to help three friends that live there. “Two downstairs and one upstairs and they all are with parents or siblings. They said we can get in a little later to get some more stuff.”
Responding to the three-alarm blaze were Blue Ridge and Mountain Home, both with ladder trucks, which were badly needed. Valley Hill Fire & Rescue, the Rescue Squad and Henderson County EMS also responded.
“Definitely appreciate the mutual aid,” he said. “It was vital to this call because our ladder truck is down right now, in the shop. We had one on the back side and one on the front side. It was definitely hot. Had a lot going on, had a lot of occupants here who were evacuated. We were laying 5-inch hose in the street so we had to worry about cars running over them.”
The city fire department got a second structure fire call around 8 a.m. on Somerset Drive off Asheville Highway while the entire on-duty force was still at the Sixth Avenue Apartments.
Fletcher, Valley Hill and Mountain Home units responded to that call.
“Luckily that wasn’t nothing major but I believe we had someone burned in that call,” Vindigni said.