Officials talk behind closed doors about fire investigation

Published 5:04 pm Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The cause of a recent apartment complex fire in Brookhaven is still officially “unknown.” An investigation by the State Fire Marshal’s Office is ongoing.

Local officials met with the City’s Board of Aldermen Tuesday in a closed-door session to discuss potential litigation.

The 20-minute meeting included Fire Chief Jeff Ainsworth, Police Chief Kenneth Collins and Emergency Management Director Chris Reid.

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“We’re still doing whatever we need to with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, but the investigation is ongoing,” Chief Ainsworth said following the meeting. “We look into whatever they ask us to. When the Police Department hears rumors, they investigate that part of it. That’s what we’re doing — we’re chasing rumors.”

Ainsworth said insurance investigators have recently been on the scene of the fire at 115 East Chippewa St.

“They’re doing their thing, and we are coordinating with them. We’re talking with them and the State Fire Marshal. We send everything to him and he is creating his file,” Ainsworth said. “It’s still being looked at.”

The chief said he could not comment to the issue of potential litigation, but surmises it pertains to insurance liability.

“We just discussed the facts of it,” he said. “It’s basically the unknown.”

Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Connie Dolan said Wednesday she could make no further comment than the fire is still under investigation.


The midnight fire

A blaze broke out around midnight Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Brookwood Apartment Complex on East Chippewa Street. Concert-goers at Recess 101 next door responded quickly, helping several people to safety as others reported the fire to authorities.

The Brookhaven Fire Department received the call at 12:06 a.m. Sunday and was on scene by 12:08, Ainsworth said. But it was too late to save the structures.

Volunteers from county fire departments also responded and helped fight the blaze.

The fire apparently started in the easternmost building, closest to South First Street, then spread through breezeways into the other buildings. Three investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s Office were on hand Sunday morning investigating what may have sparked the fire, and what caused it to spread so rapidly.

One firefighter said he had never seen fire move so quickly.

Chief Ainsworth and numerous firefighters were still on the scene more than eight hours later, ensuring the fire was completely extinguished.

Twenty-eight residents were temporarily relocated to the Brookhaven Building, then to a local hotel while the Brookhaven Housing Authority works to find more permanent residential housing.

Two additional residents — unofficially identified as Terrance Lewis and Jerry Ferdinand — died from injuries sustained in the fire. Coroner Clay McMorris cannot release information until DNA testing has been confirmed.

Community members and businesses stepped up quickly to provide water, food, medicines and other needed items. Donations of clothing so exceeded needs that the City asked for no more to be donated after Sunday. Gift cards to purchase personal items were also donated.