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Past alarm activations led to confusion during Atlanta apartment fire

Residents at Reserve at LaVista Walk said fire alarms regularly go off at the apartment complex

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By DeAsia Paige
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — Roughly two days after a massive fire erupted at a northeast Atlanta apartment complex, some displaced residents struggled to retrieve their items and said they want more transparency from the apartment management and property owners. And others are just trying to wrestle with the grief and sadness that come with losing belongings — and a home.

Some residents, many of whom did not want their names used, returned home to get their items on Sunday. Several said that sprinklers didn’t go off at the time of the fire and that the fire alarms regularly go off at the complex. So when they heard the alarms Friday night, they did not know whether to evacuate or to stay put.

“That’s why they said no one felt like the fire was real because the fire alarms are always going off, so it’s always a false alarm. It’s just always going off,” said Kelesey Arthur.

Arthur is a resident at Reserve at LaVista Walk apartments, where a three-alarm fired raged on Friday night. Residents were able to evacuate the building on Friday, but 17 people were treated for smoke inhalation and minor injuries, according to officials. Atlanta police said on Saturday that the first may have started due to fireworks being lit on the rooftop of the four-story building. the Two people have been arrested in connection with the fire: Robert Stokes, 42, and Charnelle Gunn, 24. They were charged with criminal damage to property and reckless conduct.

The complex is on LaVista Road, near the intersection of Cheshire Bridge Road.

Many residents are displaced, but the exact number is not known. Arthur is one of them. Since the fire, she has stayed with friends. She tried to get her belongings on Sunday, but said she was told she couldn’t enter because the site is now a hazard.

“I was on the way home from a party, and was trying to figure out what happened,” Arthur said about the fire on Friday night. “I didn’t know it was that bad at first. I was hearing there was a fire, but I didn’t know the whole building was falling down, so I’m coming from Gwinnett.”

“I don’t think it’s necessarily registering because I’m trying to figure out what to do. I think it’s going to hit me after the fact.”

Arthur has lived in the complex for three years and said management at the complex has changed a few times.

“It’s been problems and stuff like that, but it was still home,” Arthur said.

“I’m trying not to feel at all,” said a resident named Ty, who did not want her last name used because of the stress she has been through. “I’m ok for now. I’m trying to stay calm. It’s hard, but you can’t really do nothing about it because you gotta not try to make a big thing out of things you can’t control.”

Kait, 22, said she lives there with her boyfriend and five-month-old daughter. She’s been staying at her boyfriend’s parents’ home.

She said it’s been the second time the fire alarms have gone off in two weeks.

“We didn’t think anything of it, so I waited like ten minutes and then I ran over to the balcony on the second floor by the garage and then I yelled down, ‘Is there a real fire,’ and they were like, ‘Yeah, get out. Get out. Get out.’”

Representatives from Avenium, which calls itself online a property management and real estate company and which manages the property, were not onsite Sunday. Calls to the company were not returned. It is unclear when residents will be able to get back into their apartments.

Atlanta Fire Rescue posted on X, formerly Twitter, that access to buildings 1000 and 2000 and the parking deck would be closed because of the possibility of collapse to those structures. In addition, the department said vehicle and pedestrian traffic remained closed Sunday evening on LaVista Road NE from Cheshire Bridge NE to Citadel Drive NE and Cheshire Bridge Road NE from Lindbergh St NE to Alco Street NE.

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