The fast-moving blaze destroyed 7 homes along the Intracoastal Waterway
PENDER COUNTY -- We just don’t know.
Nearly seven months after arguably this Pender County beach town’s largest fire, the cause of the massive blaze that destroyed seven soundside homes remains unknown.
Officials from his department looked into the Atkinson Road blaze, said Surf City Fire Chief Allen Wilson, as did investigators from Pender County, the state fire marshal’s office and the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), to say nothing of the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and investigators from each of the companies underwriting insurance for the lost homes.
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Still, no cause of the Sept. 28, 2019, blaze was ever satisfactorily established, even while foul play was ruled out. Even the suspicion of any foul play was ruled out, Wilson said.
"There just wasn’t enough evidence to clearly determine exactly what caused the fire," the chief noted.
All the various investigators worked together, Wilson said, "and even with that, they couldn’t find enough evidence to point to any one particular cause."
Nearly seven months later, the former home sites are essentially cleaned awaiting local and state Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) permits that will allow new construction to move forward. To the best of Wilson’s knowledge, all seven owners have retained their lots, and all seven intend to rebuild.
Pender County property records indicate that the buildings along Atkinson Road, a development known as the Peninsula at Topsail, were multi-family homes. Tax records show that the appraised values of the properties and buildings ranged from the $390,000s to the $520,000s.
"I am not sure that anybody has actually started construction yet," Wilson said, "but I do know that they have been working through the permitting process."
To the best of his knowledge, none of the owners of the destroyed homes has thrown in the towel and sold the lot on which their home once stood.
No one was injured in the fire, but the blaze was intense, and, after COVID-19 restrictions lift and public meetings are once again possible, Wilson said he will be presenting after-action findings from the local fire department to town council for their consideration. He has already shared this information with the affected homeowners’ association.
It is possible, he said, that some changes to city building codes might then be in the offing, though he doesn’t think that is a particularly likely scenario.
"The fire started on the outside," Wilson said, "and even if a local or state code required sprinkler systems in single family homes – which they don’t – those systems wouldn’t have done any real good."
Even as the fire spread from one home to the next, he added, the damage started on the outsides, not in interiors where a sprinkler system might have offered some benefit.
"If there are things that the town can evaluate, I certainly am going to look to him to make recommendations," Town Manager Kyle Breuer said of any suggestions put forward by the fire chief. "If there are recommendations, we will certainly take them into consideration."
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