RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – One week after a massive fire destroyed an apartment building behind Crabtree Valley Mall, people who lived there continue to piece back together their lives.
The memories are still fresh and the emotions are still running high for those who lost everything.
“It was still smoldering, still smoking, water was pouring out of pipes,” said Jesse Gephart, one of the victims of the fire.
That was just some of the devastation Gephart and his partner Eddie Arriola saw last Sunday after they arrived back in town just one day after the fire leveled their 12-unit building at the Pinnacle Apartments.
“We’re just devastated. We’re just so sad to have lost everything like that,” Gephart said.
A set of charred stairs remain at the site. Those stairs once led to the apartment where they had lived for less than six months.
“We don’t even know, we still don’t know how to process it,” Gephart said.
There’s been little time to process it in the week that’s passed. They’ve been sitting in their hotel suite compiling a list of what they lost.
“It’s just like a memory game, it’s just trying to remember every little thing and how you place value on priceless items,” Gephart said.
None more priceless and precious than what brings tears to Arriola’s eyes – the two cats they lost.
“Stuff is stuff, but the cats are the worst part,” Gephart said.
Both men had renter’s insurance and received help from the Red Cross.
“The support we’ve been shown from the community has just, his work has been really supportive and my work has been really supportive and just all of our friends,” Gephart said. “I’m very involved in the theater community and just had a huge rally of support behind us. It’s really just made the whole thing almost bearable, really.”
Fire investigators determined a cigarette butt sparked the fire in the heavily wooded area, which spread and was carried by high winds.
“Someone’s carelessness took away everything that we have. You just have to, I don’t know, forgive them I guess, because we all make stupid mistakes, but, not everyone’s stupid mistakes have such drastic outcomes,” Gephart said.
That outcome will shape the new foundation for this couple, who plan to marry and buy a house.
Investigators said the fire was accidental. In all, 17 people were left without a home.
Three people were injured.
Two cats and five dogs died.