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Fire exposes problems with alarms at Gainesville apartment complex
12272017 FIRE 1
Caroline Garnett, right, talks with a neighbor at The Fields McEver, about how worried and scared they are that fire alarms in the breezeway of their building are not working. A kitchen fire in a neighbor's apartment on Christmas morning caused two families to relocate indefinitely. - photo by Joshua Silavent

A fire at an apartment complex in Gainesville on Christmas morning revealed that alarms in the breezeway of at least one building are not working, leaving some residents to fear for their lives.

“They’re still not working,” said Caroline Garnett, a resident at The Fields McEver, formerly known as McEver Vineyards. “If not for the guy on the second floor, I would be dead.”

Fiona Owens, property assistant manager, said owners and maintenance are “looking into why they didn’t go off.”

This includes checking all buildings in the complex, testing alarms, making sure safety equipment such as extinguishers and hoses are working and available, and “trying to do what’s necessary” to remedy the problem.

Residents said they saw firefighters inspecting things at the complex Tuesday morning, but the Gainesville fire marshal’s office did not respond by deadline to an inquiry from The Times regarding its role in fixing the problem and whether any citations would be made.

A grease fire on a kitchen stove resulted in smoke and water damage from a sprinkler to at least two units in Garnett’s building.

The Red Cross was notified to assist with the family from the apartment where the fire started and those suffering water damage.

Garnett said the problem of having inoperable fire alarms is made more troubling because she pays for fire insurance, adding that she’s frustrated and second-guessing her recent move to the complex.

Garnett stayed with a friend Christmas night. She said she was too frightened another blaze might start and that in the dark of night there would not be anyone to warn her.

“I was in tears,” she said of the incident. “I’m scared to sleep tonight.”

Jonathan Griffin was only alerted to trouble by the sound of a smoke alarm going off inside his neighbor’s unit on the second floor.

Despite walking with a cane, Griffin was able to bang on the doors of several apartments and notify residents, including Garnett, to evacuate.

He said he then grabbed the nearest fire extinguisher and helped put out the flames.

Griffin pointed out that no fire hose is available in a breezeway cabinet meant to store one, and that tags on fire extinguishers show the last inspections were made to this building in August 2016.

“This puts everybody in jeopardy,” Griffin said.