By Melissa Proulx, Staff Writer
A mysterious fire at an off-campus apartment back in August has been ruled as arson, according to Durham Chief of Police David Kurz.
“We can confirm that it was arson,” Kurz said. “We are certainly looking for any assistance from the public.”
The fire was started early in the morning at the 30 Park Court apartment complexes on Saturday, Aug. 30. According to Deputy Fire Chief John Powers, the Durham Fire Department received their first 911 call at 2:47 a.m. and arrived shortly after. At 2:50 a.m. the firefighters on scene called for a first alarm, requesting back up in order to tame the flames. A second alarm was pulled at 2:56 a.m., but the fire was finally deemed under control at 3:18 a.m.
In total, nine different fire departments (Lee, Dover, Madbury, Newmarket, Rochester, Exeter, Somersworth, Newington and Barrington) assisted with putting out the fire, while Newfields and Portsmouth Fire Departments held down the fort at the Durham station.
Witnesses who were in the area that night described the scene as chaotic. Meghan Lee, a senior psychology major, who lives a few yards from where the fire happened, watched the scene unfold in those early morning hours with her roommates. They were originally drawn from the house after seeing the flashing police lights, curious to see if someone had been pulled over nearby.
“We walked up and heard screaming, and a police officer was climbing a rock wall up to Park Court,” Lee said. “He was screaming for everyone to get out of the building. We heard glass shattering from the cop trying to get people out and make noise because the fire alarm wasn’t going off.”
Lee watched as the entire scene unfolded, saying that there was “a river of water flowing down Main Street” as the engines sprayed both the front and back of the apartment building. Many of the residents who lived in the area helped the police get everyone out of the building.
“The scariest thing was that before the fire engines got there, the cop said, ‘We think everyone is out, but we can’t account for everyone yet,’” Lee recounted. “It was pretty quiet, someone easily could have been sleeping. “
These first hand accounts have been vital to the investigation, according to Kurz.
“Everyone is being cooperative, the problem is that it was so dark that no one saw anything,” Kurz said. “We’re just ecstatic that no one was hurt.”
As the investigation continues, University Edge is accommodating residents at another location while their apartments are repaired. Currently only two of the 12 apartments in the complex are “inhabitable” according to Kurz; the other apartments are receiving treatment for water damage and the smell of smoke.
Kurz said though he is hopeful that repairs wouldn’t last long, he is unsure of how much damage resulted from the fires and how long it will be before residents can return home.Property manager Kelly Lewton had similar information, saying she is unsure how long the 36 students will be displaced.
“At this point, I am sending daily updates on the fire to all involved,” she said in an email. “I am hopeful for a quick resolution.”
Park Court has four other buildings in the complex. In total, the five buildings have 32 apartments inside, with either one or two bedrooms that are big enough to safely allow for double or triple occupancy, according to University Edge’s website. The Park Court properties are just a handful of the 13 others scattered around campus.
Both Kurz and Powers ask anyone with any information to contact the Fire Marshalls or the Durham Police Department.
“No matter how small the info might be, it might be what we need to piece it all together,” Kurz said.
Anyone with any information about that night can call the Fire Marshall’s hotline at 800-400-3526 or the Durham Police Department at 603-868-2634.