By: Caroline Silva
Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Two people were arrested after countless residents were forced to evacuate a northeast Atlanta apartment complex Friday night as a massive blaze raged, officials said.
Firefighters were called to the Reserve at LaVista Walk apartments on Lavista Road around 10:35 p.m. and encountered heavy smoke and fire on the roof of the four-story building. All residents were able to evacuate the building in time, but 17 people were treated for smoke inhalation and various minor injuries, fire officials said.
The investigation revealed that the fire may have started due to fireworks being ignited from the roof of the building, Atlanta police said. Robert Stokes, 42, and Charnelle Gunn, 24, were detained at the scene and booked into the Fulton County Jail on Saturday, according to officials. They are facing charges of first-degree criminal damage to property and reckless conduct.
More than a hundred residents had to evacuate, and the fire department said the Red Cross is assisting 28 displaced residents. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said the city is working to have resources available for those impacted by the fire.
“My thoughts remain with the families and the city will continue to find additional ways to support their road to recovery,” Dickens said.
An Atlanta police officer was a resident of the complex and lost all of his belongings, police Chief Darin Schierbaum said told Channel 2 Action News from the scene. Schierbaum called the officer a hero and said he helped others in the building instead of going to save his own cat.
“When he got the call, he returned here — he works in another part of the city — he and other officers started going floor to floor making sure everyone was aware of the fire, assisting in getting individuals out and he opted to do that instead of returning to his apartment to save possessions or to save his cat,” he said.
Several residents told Channel 2 they thought it was a false alarm but quickly realized they had to evacuate when they smelled the smoke and heard the commotion outside.
“I heard people knocking at the door, and my friend called me, ‘It’s real, get out!’ I’m like, okay, I’m out!” Scott said.
Parts of Lavista and Cheshire Bridge roads were closed for hours but were reopened around 6 p.m. Saturday as crews put out hotspots.