The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

October 30, 2013

Fire ravages Camelot Apartments building

Real nightmare on Elm Street

— An early-morning blaze tore through the attic of the 800 building of Camelot Apartments off East Elm Street Wednesday, destroying one unit and causing heavy smoke damage in others.

Athens Fire Chief Tony Kirk said the fire began in the bedroom of one apartment. The cause is still unknown, he said, but the flames were contained to that one unit, while a shared attic space caused the smoke to spill into the other units and out of the roof.

Twenty-four apartments are housed in the 800 building. Nineteen were occupied at the time of the fire and all residents were evacuated safely with no injuries reported.

Electricity was cut to the building, but has since been restored to all but eight units, the one destroyed and seven that sustained smoke and water damage.

Kirk said the fire was extinguished within five minutes of firefighters’ arrival, but clearing out hotspots and smoke took an additional 25 minutes.

Rich McElyea woke up around 2:26 a.m. at Camelot to the sound of breaking glass coming from next door.

“It sounded like somebody was breaking into an apartment,” McElyea said. “So I looked out my back window and it looked like somebody was swinging a light out the back, and I knew that didn’t look right, so I opened my screen … and stuck my head out, of course I saw smoke and flames billowing out of the apartment next to mine.”

McElyea called 911 and ran out of the door, but couldn’t find his cat, Aubrey, on the way.

“I was panicking, they were telling me to get out on 911 and I didn’t feel good about it,” he said. “I did not feel good about it, but they told me not to go back in. Once the cops got here, they wouldn’t let me go back in.”

After first responders arrived, McElyea said he searched for the tabby cat he’s had for the past two years, the same amount of time he has lived at Camelot. He figured she was hiding somewhere, afraid to move.

An Athens Police Department officer went into McElyea’s apartment after flames were extinguished and came out with the cat clinging to her uniform.

While he held onto Aubrey after rescuing her for the second time — once from a shelter and now from a fire — McElyea said he was still worried about his pet because she might have inhaled smoke.

Athens Fire Department confirmed that a dog died in the apartment where the blaze began.

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