KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) - One person is dead and as many as 30 people are out of their homes after fire tore through a Kalamazoo apartment complex.
The fire was discovered before 1 a.m. Monday at the Village of Kalamazoo apartments near W. Michigan Avenue and S. Drake Road.
The victim, whose name is being withheld pending notification of her family, died in a third-floor apartment on the back side of building at 4110 Lilac Lane.
While a cause hasn't been determined, 24 Hour News 8 has learned a coffee can with discarded smoking materials sitting next to a couch on an outdoor balcony caught the attention of investigators.
24 Hour News 8 also learned that some of the residents who escaped were alerted by their neighbors, not the building fire alarm system.
"It was pretty much a scary situation,” said Jathan Carter, who lives at the complex. “It was like being in a haunted house, actually.”
Carter, along with his girlfriend, three children and the family pet, were inside the same building that caught fire. He said he heard a maintenance man yelling, and when he looked outside, he saw an orange glow.
After Carter got his family out, he went back to the building and tried to wake his neighbors.
"That's when I proceeded to go around and see if I could alert the other neighbors with maybe some shouting and beating on the windows." Carter said.
"I'm pretty sure everybody else in this building is saying that we didn't hear anything... no kind of smoke detection."
Carter wasn't the only resident who didn’t hear the warning.
"The fire trucks were the ones that woke me up,” said Charles Irons, who escaped the fire. “Unfortunately, the alarms didn't go off."
The complex, which is owned by Grand Rapids-based Hope Network, has two alarm systems.
The first system is located inside the apartments, and is meant to warn only the residents of that apartment.
24 Hour News 8 checked Kalamazoo city building records and found that two years ago, during the last code inspection at Villages of Kalamazoo, a number of apartment detectors, which are wired into the building's electrical system to prevent tampering with the batteries, weren't working properly.
The Village of Kalamazoo employee responsible for making sure the detectors worked at the time was fired, according to complex management. Kalamazoo city inspectors said the detectors in question were all repaired within weeks of the 2011 inspection.
As for Sunday's fire, one resident speculated the smoke from the fire had not seeped through the fireproof doors on the individual apartments enough to set off detectors.
But how do they know for sure?
"Maintenance goes through annually at the very least, and maintenance now does it every time they go into a unit,” said Jonathan Fennel with Hope Network.
The second system is located in the hallways outside the apartments, and is wired directly to fire dispatchers.
That system worked Monday morning, but it provided no audible alarm for residents to hear. Beyond alerting firefighters early on, it did nothing to let residents know of the dangers Monday morning.
Officials with the complex said the second system is standard and up to code.
"We've had this system for nine plus years,” Fennell said. “There's no reason to think that we need to upgrade the system."
The investigation will continue Tuesday as fire investigators with the company who insures the property will be on site, comparing notes with the Kalamazoo fire marshal to figure out what started the blaze.
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