Firefighters Battle Blaze in Low-Income Apartments in South Salt Lake; Some Units ‘Completely Gone’

Fire crews responded to an apartment fire near 3800 South and 300 East on Sunday, July 9, 2017. Photo: Gephardt Daily

SOUTH SALT LAKE, Utah, July 9, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — Fire crews from several agencies responded to a fire Sunday at a low-income apartment complex in the area of 3800 South and 300 East.

South Salt Lake Battalion Chief Blaine Daimaru said firefighters arrived to find the second- and third-floor balconies on fire. A second alarm was called when it wasn’t immediately known if all the apartments have been evacuated. He said the heat was another factor in calling the second alarm, because the crews need to rotate so they won’t become dehydrated.

“Access was really tight,” Daimaru said of another challenge firefighters had to face. After the blaze was extinguished, they were still checking for any hot spots because of the size of the complex.

Daimaru said 18 units had to be evacuated and the residents won’t be allowed back in while investigators are still on scene. The cause and origin of the fire have yet to be determined.

Crews from South Salt Lake, Salt Lake City, Unified Fire Authority, West Valley City, Murray and West Jordan responded to the fire.

Daimaru had advice for anyone who is thinking about grilling or shooting off fireworks — anything involving fire: Watch what you’re doing; keep track of everything; and make sure your surroundings can’t become involved. He said to look around and don’t do anything near trees, bushes, or buildings that could be ignited by a spark.

Bob Tuttle is the property manager for the Housing Authority of Salt Lake County, which owns the apartment complex.

Tuttle said the building is “fairly new, so it’s up to code, and good structurally.”

“The thing about our residents,” he said, “is this is low-income property, so most of the people that live here don’t make a lot of money, so it’s going to be very difficult for them to replace a lot of things and put their lives back together.”

Tuttle said at least two units — and possibly more — are “completely gone.”

There were no injuries in the fire, but one resident was transported to the hospital because of respiratory problems aggravated by the smoke.

Tuttle said grilling is a “no-no” in the complex, and the Housing Authority just sent out a notice on Thursday, telling residents that fireworks are not allowed. Apparently someone had been lighting fireworks in the parking lot, he said.

The property is insured, but if the residents don’t have personal insurance, they can lose everything in a fire, Tuttle said.

“We do what we can. You can’t run it like an institution,” he said, referring to the apartment complex. “It’s people’s homes, people’s dwellings.”

Tuttle mentioned the length of time that could be required to gut and rebuild the units that were severely damaged and to make sure the building is structurally sound.

“Given that amount of damage, at least in those two units, we’re looking at, I would say, a month, six weeks, maybe two months. It depends on the condition of the units,” he said.

The Red Cross was called to assist those needing a place to stay for the evening, he said, and, “We’ll find out tomorrow what we’ll be able to do for them as far as extended accommodations, so that they’re not being a drain on the Red Cross if we can help that.”

When asked about the mix of people who live in the complex, Tuttle said, “We have refugees, a lot of chronically homeless individuals who were able to finally get housing through Housing First or Housing Choice vouchers. We have a large Nepali population … Somalia — all over the place — Latin America, Mexico.”

He went on to say, “Some of these people are some of the hardest-working people I know. They have families. A lot of times, the dad works two jobs, the mom works a job. Sometimes the dad watches the kids while the mom goes to work, then the mom comes home and the dad goes to work. When you say ‘low income’ and ‘refugees,’ these people are definitely not a burden on the system. They’re trying to make a contribution and improve their lives.”

Tuttle suggested that anyone who would like to help out may want to make a donation to the Red Cross.

“They can always use donations,” he said, “and some small children might need clothes.”

Then, speaking on behalf of the Housing Authority, he added, “If necessary, we will find housing for these people. That’s our mission, that’s our job. That’s what we do.”

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