Residents begin recovery process after Regal Apartments fire

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Those who lived at the Regal Apartments in Charleston did not wake up in their own bed Thursday morning. Several mattresses were covered in ash in the rubble that was left behind from Wednesday’s fire.

Regal Apartments resident Joshua Williams and his cat Evee

Joshua Williams, a city of Charleston refuse employee, was driving his recycling truck after 3 p.m. when he got a call that his four-story apartment building went up in flames.

Williams rushed home to rescue his cat, Evee, on the second floor.

“I got there just in time. If I would’ve got there 20-30 minutes later, I probably would’ve lost my cat,” he told MetroNews Thursday while staying at a friend’s house.

Many residents of the 35 units that burned down are staying at the Best Western Hotel in downtown Charleston where the American Red Cross is providing case management services.

Victoria Randolph, who stayed overnight at the hotel, looked down at her feet as she spoke to MetroNews while waiting in line to meet with the Red Cross. She was wearing flip flops in January because she didn’t have time to put on real shoes.

“Didn’t have time to grab phones, some people don’t have shoes, like I’m wearing flip flops. A couple older ladies were asleep. They’re in T-shirts, no jacket, no nothing,” she said.

Randolph just moved to the building two months ago from Ripley with her fiance. She was home at the time of the fire, but said she never heard an alarm go off. It wasn’t until she saw a firefighter that she knew she had to leave immediately.

“The fire alarms go off all the time there for nothing, but this time there was no alarm. I heard the firefighter dragging the hoses up the stairs. I poked my head out and said ‘this is a real one, huh?’ He said ‘yeah, get out’,” she said.

Patriot Services Group, who manages the Regal Apartments, told MetroNews in an email, “the building had a functioning fire detection system and was working properly as of the morning of the fire, confirmed by the independent fire monitoring company and the Fire Marshall.” The statement went on to note, “the building was structurally sound, and we are unaware of any structural or safety related issues.”

PSG said residents are being placed in hotels for at least the next week at no cost while permanent housing solutions are arranged.

“Management is trying to fit us in to other apartment buildings,” Randolph said. “They’re trying to map out how many apartments they have available and then see what they can do.”

Erica Mani, regional CEO of the Red Cross, visited the fire scene Thursday morning and said getting residents back on their feet is priority, but it will take some time.

“We continue to work with them throughout usually a 30-45 day process to make sure they have a true recovery plan and they have somewhere to live permanently,” Mani said.

Case workers are now busy identifying what items need to be replaced, Mani said.

“Identifying the things that they lost, making sure that their prescriptions, medications, life-sustaining needs are being taken care of,” she said.

The Red Cross is also making sure residents’ mail is forwarded to their new location and that they have the financial assistance for items that can’t be replaced.

Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said the city has been overwhelmed with donations of clothing, hygiene supplies and other items for displaced residents. She said the community is asked to drop off their donations to Mountain Mission at 1620 Seventh Avenue.

“Obviously our focus is on the families and the residents there. Where are you? Where are you going to be? Where do you need to be? What do you need right now?” the mayor said on Thursday’s “580 Live” heard on MetroNews flagship station 580-WCHS in Charleston.

Monetary donations can be made to United Way of Central West Virginia.

Goodwin on Thursday’s show also credited the quick response of Charleston firefighters. She said it could’ve been much worse.

“A lot of fast movement, a lot of technical movements, training and stamina,” Goodwin said. “They just did an amazing job and so did our community.”

As of Thursday morning, much of the building had been torn down. Among the items in the rubble were charred bicycles, a large red mixing bowl for cooking and bed frames.

The smell of smoke still lingered in the air as cars drove by slowly to view what was left of the building.

The Charleston Fire Department said in a press release they received multiple 911 calls reporting large amounts of smoke including visible flames from the roof just before 3:15 p.m. Wednesday. The fire came from the attic.

Firefighters had to demolish the building when the roof started to cave in less than an hour after flames broke out. No one was hurt. An investigation into a cause is underway.

Goodwin said clearing the scene will take some time.

“As they dig out and break down the building, they leave a corner of it up so they can scoop and grab the contents,” she explained.

For Williams, those ‘contents’ were his life.

“It’s kind of hard to fathom all that I lost,” he said. “It’s real shocking and overwhelming. You need everything because everything is gone.”

Williams’ family member set up a GoFundMe page to help him recover his losses. The original goal of $6,000 was reached within a few hours. He said the support has been incredible and that he’s confident he’ll bounce back.

“A couple friends gave me a couple sweaters, shirts and stuff. I’m pretty resilient, so I’ll be okay,” he said.