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Fire destroys apartment building in North Carolina capital

(Chris Seward/The News & Observer via AP). Firefighters battle a five-alarm fire burning an apartment building and surrounding structures in downtown Raleigh, N.C., Thursday night, March 16, 2017. Fire was consuming an apartment building under cons…

By EMERY P. DALESIO
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Firefighters on Friday extinguished an overnight fire that engulfed an apartment building under construction in North Carolina’s capital city, sending sparks and ash into the dark sky.

About 10 other buildings were damaged by the fire, five of them severely, area news outlets reported. One firefighter was hurt by falling glass, but no other injuries were reported. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The fire began shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday in the six-story building in downtown Raleigh, a city in the eastern part of the state. The fire was under control about three hours later, although smoke was still rising as firefighters continued pouring water late Friday morning on wreckage that had collapsed to the ground.

Accountant Brent Williams and retirement planner Robert Devay, both 26, said between water damage from sprinklers and the heat of the burning building about 50 yards across the street, they’d probably lost most of what they owned in the two-bedrooms apartment they shared. They were watching the NCAA basketball tournament on television when they saw the flames and went for a better look.

"We were watching it from my room because it got too hot to be on the balcony and the window popped in from the fire," Williams said. "So we decided we should probably leave. So we came downstairs and the police came in and kicked everybody out of the building."

Their six-story apartment building’s pale green paint was scorched a dark brown by the blaze and many windows were open to the cold, clear air. Williams said they took nothing but what they were wearing.

Seventeen floors of another building across the street from the blaze were also damaged, fire officials said.

"You don’t expect to walk outside and see a towering inferno," Scott Shook, president of the North Carolina Community Colleges Board, who was eating dinner at one of the restaurants, told The News & Observer of Raleigh.

Plumbing supervisor Joe Meads of Burlington said his crews were working earlier Thursday inside the six-story downtown apartment building destroyed by the blaze, which he estimated was about half completed. All had left for the day hours before the fire was reported, he said as he marveled at the sagging frame remains of the construction crane that Thursday reached about 10 stories above the site.

The apartment building was designed for upper-middle income tenants attracted by the nearby Glenwood South entertainment district and easy walks to work in downtown offices.

The building that burned was supposed to have about 240 studio and one- and two-bedroom apartments.

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Follow Emery P. Dalesio at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/emery-p-dalesio.

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