Arson not likely in Carolina Beach fire, investigators say

Updated: Apr. 15, 2021 at 11:45 PM EDT
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CAROLINA BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - After investigation into the massive fire that destroyed the Paradise Cove condominium complex, Carolina Beach Fire Chief Alan Griffin released a statement that does not provide conclusive evidence of the cause of the fire, but indicates it started in an outdoor common area.

“Investigators currently have no data to support an intentionally set fire, mechanical failure, or any building feature that would have contributed to the start of the fire.”

Griffin said in the statement that video footage and eyewitness accounts provided an approximate location of where the fire started — in a common area where residents went to smoke.

Investigators confirmed there were multiple residents who had smoked in this area outside the property on the day of the fire and high winds had contributed to the spread.

A team of investigators consisting of the Carolina Beach Fire Department, Carolina Beach Police Department, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) completed the following:

• Interviews with residents of Paradise Cove Condos, multiple on-scene eyewitnesses, and all subjects of interest that were on scene before or during the fires

• Reviewed all video surveillance footage from multiple sources

• Reviewed all available photos, social media posts, and video footage that was available

• Conducted a thorough on-scene investigation of the fire building to determine fire location and how the fire spread throughout the building

As the location of where the fire started was outside, there were no fire sprinklers or smoke detectors in that area so it went undetected until it spread rapidly by high winds and cut off stairways leaving residents few options to escape.

According to the statement, this is not an official ruling because investigators are still finalizing evidence and data.

Paradise Cove residents who witnessed the April 2 fire are still traumatized after witnessing what some described as an “inferno.”

“There’s still nightmares, like I still think wake up and think about it, our neighbors are experiencing the same thing,” says resident Melissa Matthews.

Matthews lives in another building in the complex, and describes hearing a loud noise before looking outside to see the fire.

“Shock. I thought our neighbors were moving some furniture because I heard a thud and then the building shake. So I just thought, because we had gotten some new neighbors recently, they were moving in some furniture. Then I heard another one, then I heard some really loud screaming and I thought’ I don’t know what that was.’” said Matthews.

Although Friday marks two weeks since the fire, Matthews is not surprised that it has taken this long to find an answer as to what caused it.

“It’s hard to say,” said Matthews. “You can see the building, the fact they can even come up with [tonight’s update] is impressive.”

Matthews and her family plan to move out of the Paradise Cove complex because of the fire. They see the damage each day when they step out onto their porch.

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