Some Midland apartment complex residents allowed to retrieve ite - WNEM TV 5

Some Midland apartment complex residents allowed to retrieve items

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Dozens of residents are out of their homes after an apartment fire Monday evening, and it could be more than a month before they're allowed to move back in.

Some were allowed to access their apartments on Friday to get pets, medications and other necessary items left behind.

The fire happened at the Greenhill Apartments in Midland on July 31 at 6:22 p.m. The complex is located at 1010 Eastlawn Drive.

The fire was confined to the top floor, but extensive water damage has pushed damage estimates to about $2 million.

Ten residents were hospitalized to be checked for smoke inhalation, three firefighters also got checked out. They have all been released.

The tenant of the apartment that caught fire was not home at the time, but he told TV5 he left a candle burning and believes that is the cause of the fire.

Midland Fire Chief Chris Coughlin said he can't say conclusively what caused the fire, but says either smoking material or an unattended candle is to blame.

Firefighters said there would have been sprinklers in every unit if the building had been up to the latest code.

"That's the difference between minor damage and everybody staying in their homes and everybody being essentially turned out," Coughlin said.

The Red Cross is stepping in to help.

Tony Lasher, executive director of the East Central Bay Chapter of the Red Cross, said about 190 residents were affected by the fire and the Red Cross will shelter residents until they can find suitable transition and housing for them.

Which, due to restoration needed in some portions of the building, could be more than a month.

Residents worry about items left behind

"We were told to take a few things now and in a couple days you'll be able to get the rest. That's not true," said Francis Banks, mother lives in Greenhill.

Banks said on Thursday residents still weren't being allowed to retrieve items.

"Just denied. I mean, they say one thing and they do another," Banks said.

Management posted a sign on their front door notifying residents they could come back on Thursday to collect their belongings. Patrica Doty said that's not what happened.

"My caregiver had to go and get some more things for me and they called me back and told me I couldn't get in at all and I was very frustrated," Doty said.

Doty said she is desperate to get inside for things she said she just can't go another day without.

"Clothing, food, medicine," she said.

Some even said there are still pets left inside the building, alone for days.

"Those pets have been in there since Monday, maybe no food. They don't know what's going on. To me, at that point, it's called neglect and abuse on management's part because they're not managing it right," Banks said.

Neil Wackerly, president of the Humane Society of Midland County, said he tried to get inside to rescue a man's cat, but was denied access.

"This gentleman thinks his cat will be OK because he was able to leave a lot of water and a lot of food, but I just hope they're all OK," Wackerly said.

On Friday, residents had a limited amount of time to go back for pets, clothes and medicine. But first they had to sign a waiver saying the apartment complex wasn't liable if they were to get hurt while retrieving their belongings.

One person said the building smelled like raw sewage.

"I mean the carpet was all torn up. In my mom's room there was soot everywhere," Jeremy Cowan said.

Cowan was escorted by staff to his mother's apartment where he was able to retrieve a few pictures.

"That's all my mom wanted," Cowan said.

Jan Lampman, executive director for the ARC of Midland, is trying to assist the tenants who face an uncertain future. She was at the apartments on Friday to offer assurance to residents.

"We just want to make sure that everybody is made whole," Lampman said.

She said she has no clue when or if the renters will be allowed to live in their homes again.

"Right now we're just saying we don't know the answer to that question and we're just going to move along from that," Lampman said.

For Kimberly Carpenter it is a case of the Mondays that has stayed with her the whole week. She has been waiting anxiously to get her belongings from her home since the fire.

To make matters worse, Carpenter said management at the apartment complex is hounding her for rent.

"They're telling us we have to pay our rent and I'm like 'I don't even have a roof over my head, but I'm supposed to pay you my rent? Where else am I going to go with no money if I pay you my rent,'" Carpenter said.

Carpenter said she doesn't have a way to take all of her stuff to her hotel room and management told her if her property isn't removed by the end of Saturday she might lose it for good.

"After that it's indefinite as to whether we'll ever be able to get anything out of there again, ever," Carpenter said.

Altman Management, the company that runs Greenhill Apartments, released this statement:

Understanding the needs of the residents and recognizing the extremely dangerous condition of the building, Altman Management is offering assistance for the removal of the residents’ personal property. Altman Management has hired a moving company to pack and remove residents’ property to a safe offsite storage facility. All residents seeking to recover any of their remaining property, can be escorted to their apartment if requested. Otherwise, residents will be able to authorize the removal of their property without having to walk to their apartment, as the elevators are currently not in service. This will allow the residents to inspect the condition of their property under safe and clean conditions at the offsite facility. 

To ensure residents’ property is removed as quickly as possible, they must schedule a designated moving time with the management company. Altman will provide this service between 9am - 5pm. An Altman spokesman said, "We understand the difficulties this tragedy has created for the residents of Greenhill Apartments. Therefore, we have decided to assist our residents in this time of need."

Residents recall night of fire

The apartment complex is home to senior citizens and people with disabilities.

"Really loud alarm went off. It was going off for about a half an hour, 45 minutes and driving me nuts. I thought well, I'll just take a walk," said Bonnie Lederer, resident.

When Lederer stepped outside on her sixth floor balcony she quickly learned what was going on.

"And the police officer below said 'you need to get out of the building cause it's on fire,'" Lederer said.

It wasn't until she walked into the main hallway that she saw thick smoke.

"I knew I couldn't use the elevators. Water was just pouring right out of it. So I took the stairwell. It was like a flowing river in there. I got wet up to my ankles," Lederer said.

She was able to spend the night with her grandson, but not all of the tenants were that fortunate.

Patty Michael lives two floors down from the apartment that started the fire. She just moved in over the weekend.

Water gushed into her apartment from the ceiling as firefighters worked to put out the blaze, forcing her to leave behind everything she owned.

"I don't even have my purse with my wallet, bank card, keys, nothing. I had to come home wearing scrubs because my clothes were soaked from the officers trying to help me down the stairs," Michael said.

She was rushed to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.

Michael was one of the 29 residents who spent the night at the pop-up shelter at Midland High School.

"We have health services on staff. We also have mental health services on staff and we have been working with the local hospitals to make sure all of those needs are met," said Kirsty Gallagher, disaster program specialist for the Red Cross.

Michael struggles with a boot on her leg, breathing problems and diabetes. She said being forced out has left her without her prescriptions.

To make matters worse, Michael hadn't gotten around to buying renter's insurance since she just moved in.

"Hopefully everything is going to be salvageable. As far as moving out, I really don't want to move again. I'm tired of moving and I don't have the funds to do this. It's just, I don't," Michael said.

The ARC of Midland and the American Red Cross are assisting with temporary relocation of some of the residents.

If you would like to send support you can send money to the United Way of Midland County in care of Greenhill fire victims. Or you can send clothes and other personal items to the ARC of Midland.

Ed White, of Midland, captured footage of some residents being rescued by firefighters. Mobile users can view it here.

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