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Morning fire damages apartment complex in Aiken

Eight apartments in the Viera Aiken complex were damaged at sunrise Sunday morning in a fire that had the Aiken Department of Public Safety in high gear at 2403 Roses Run, starting at about 6:30 a.m.

No injuries were reported, and the four units in the front of the two-story building sustained the most damage, according to a report from the department. Two cats were reported missing from the affected part of the complex, which is near South Aiken High School and was formerly known as Churchill Commons.

Capt. Maryann Burgess, who was among the department's responders, said someone reported "heavy smoke rolling" from a balcony on the ground floor. "Upon arrival, they confirmed that there was heavy smoke and fire ... It quickly extended to the second story."

She said one occupant was checked for "minor, smoke-related issues" and also noted that all of the building's occupants were removed because all eight units were compromised. The Red Cross, she added, was notified to help arrange alternative housing for all the evacuees. 

The two cats – both of which were microchipped – were last seen running from the scene, and animal control was notified to be on the lookout, Burgess added. 

A fireman pointed out that Eugene Linwood, a resident of the damaged building, was in the thick of the action before emergency crews arrived. Linwood, whose apartment is on the upper floor, was returning from his job, in Augusta, when he saw trouble. 

"I got everybody out," Linwood recalled. "My wife had to jump out the ... second-story window, and I caught her and carried her to safety."

Recalling his initial reaction, he said, "I called my wife on the phone, and I started knocking on the windows, waking everybody up, to get them out of the apartments. The lady upstairs, across from us, was the only one that I couldn't get to, because the fire had blocked the exit, so the fire department came and burst down her door, got her out."

He added, "I got everybody else out. My wife climbed out the window. I caught her right before ... the bottom window, on the ground, and then I carried her across the street and made sure I called 911 and got everybody out safely."

Linwood, whose wife is Remona Linwood, works as a production technician for Manus Bio (in the former NutraSweet facility), in Augusta. "They're a great company. They're taking care of our family, making sure we've got everything we need," he said. 

"Adrenaline's something else ... but it's a higher power involved in this," he added, confirming some high-energy moments. The Linwoods moved to Aiken in February, he said. 

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