Fire raged through a Goose Creek apartment complex this afternoon, gutting a 15-unit building and leaving at least 46 people homeless.
Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury confirmed 2 dead the apartment fire at Pine Harbour/Pinebrook Pointe apartments at 5000 Harbour Lake Drive. A source said that one of the deceased was a child. But authorities so far have said only that one or two people were taken to area hospitals after the 12:30 p.m. blaze, which destroyed units D65-80.
One resident reportedly told authorities he tried to get back to one burning unit to rescue his girlfriend and her two children, but he couldn't reach them. It is unknown whether they made it out safely, he told them. Officials, however, did not confirm that account.
The Red Cross is on the scene and is assisting people left homeless by the fire, Red Cross program manager Nancy Olson said. The organization is setting up aan emergency shelter at the Goose Creek recreation center next to City Hall on U.S. Highway 52.
Rumors were spreading through the complex that the fire started with an explosion at an illegal meth lab. Berkeley County sheriff's spokesman Dan Moon said he too has heard rumors that the blaze was connected to drug activity. He said he cannot confirm those reports because firefighters are still battling hot spots and investigators have been unable to inspect the building.
Still, the sheriff's office narcotics unit was called out to the scene, as was a hazardous material crew.
“We are considering it a crime scene until we learn otherwise,” Moon said. He said investigators want to be careful to preserve potential evidence should they determine a crime did occur.
Ginger Lambert lives in the complex and has a friend that lived in the building that initially caught fire. She said her friend had been complaining to Pine Harbour about smoke always coming from the unit they think first caught fire but the management never did anything about it.
“Now her apartment is nothing but ash,” she said. “They have nothing. Hopefully this will be a wake-up call for Pine Harbour.”
Candice Singleton, who was visiting her brother in the complex, said one of her friends had also noticed smoke and a strong smell of marijuana coming from the unit in question. She said her friend also had filed with management, but to no avail.
Singleton said a man emerged from the area near the unit after the fire started with burn marks and what appeared to be melted glass fragments on his face.” He had burn marks on his face where whatever exploded struck his skin,” she said.
She heard the man mumbling, “I left her in there.”
When Singleton pointed him out, some residents attacked him, and he was later seen being taken into custody by sheriff's deputies, she said.
“I still feel like I am dreaming,” she said. “I have never seen anything like this in my life.”
Authorities would not confirm her account.
Fire trucks and police cruisers blocked the gated entrance to the complex, and authorities were turning people away at the gate.
People milled about in the streets outside, including several young school children – some as young as 10 years old - who were dropped off by buses a short time ago. Many had no one to greet them. They stood around wondering if they had a home to return to.
Most of the students were from Sedgefield Middle School. Authorities allowed parents to leave the complex to get their children, but the students were not allowed to venture onto the complex grounds without a parent.
Several of the students, however, have parents who work during the day. That left them stranded outside. Neighbors tried to help, including one woman who called the school asking that officials there relay messages to the children's parents.
Eventually, they left with friends' parents or other adults.
A short time later, some teachers from Sedgefield showed up to help. They were dismayed that the students were gone and worried about who they had gone home with.
Colleen Vieux-Miller, 14, lives in a neighboring complex. She walked to Pine Harbour after she heard talk that children may have been hurt in the fire. Vieux-Miller has friends from Sedgefield Middle School that live in the complex and wanted to make sure they were OK.
“It's hard not knowing whether my friends are OK or not. I've been calling and calling and no one's picking up. They could be at school, they could be in the building, I just don't know,” Vieux-Miller said.
The coroner will hold a news conference at the scene at 9 p.m. and is expected to release more details about the fire.
Check back for additional details as they become available.