Residents displaced by Raleigh fire return to apartments

(Robert Richardson | CBS North Carolina)


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Many of the hundreds of people displaced after the March 16 downtown Raleigh fire will be back in their own beds tonight.

The Link Glenwood Apartments reopened Friday morning. The building has 204 units, and 57 sustained significant damage which is keeping them closed. Inspectors deemed the rest of them clear and ready for occupants to return.

“Back to the norm, for sure. I’m so excited,” Emily Wallace said.

“It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. Didn’t know when we would be able to get back in, what was happening. I stayed at a hotel for a week and a friend’s town house for the second week, and we’re just so excited to get back. It’s been a roller coaster ride for sure.”

Wallace teaches yoga in the Glenwood South area, and said she didn’t realize the significance of structure in her life until the fire. The option of walking to work turned into a lengthy commute, and other aspects of the daily routine such as food and clothing required changes.

Firefighters escorted residents to their units the weekend after the fire in order to retrieve some clothes and supplies. Returning tenants carried handfuls of hangers and rolled suitcases back into the building from morning until nightfall.

Workers put new locks on doors throughout the building, and Wallace hugged staff members at The Link as she arrived to pick up her new keys.

“They’ve been very patient. Very understanding,” said Grubb Properties corporate communications manager Emily Ethridge.

“What we’re hearing from a lot of people is that they’re excited to come back in the building.”

Grubb Properties is based in Charlotte and manages housing complexes in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. Ethridge made the trip Friday to take part in The Link’s reopening.

It was her first time to see the damage in person.

“When the reports first came in on the fire and you first saw the fire photos, I was stunned and I thought there’s no way this isn’t going to be an absolute catastrophe,” she said.

“Then we started hearing reports and hearing that everyone was okay, which was obviously the most important thing, and all the pets were okay, and that was amazing. And now, coming here just two weeks later after this fire, I’m astonished at how good it looks, how much progress has been made, even in the damaged units.”

Some of the 57 units which remain closed due to heat, smoke, and water damage were vacant. Ethridge said the company plan to relocate some people from damaged units into unoccupied undamaged units, but there are not enough for everyone who’s interested.

Crews remain busy with repairs to the damaged units. Workers removed removed carpets and drywall, and there are heaters and dehumidifiers to try to get things completely dry.

The rest of the building is as it was before the fire, and people are really happy to be home.

“I was at the Residence Inn at North Hills, which was okay, but it wasn’t my apartment,” resident Ted Olsson said.

“They’ve helped us out a lot between getting back in and making sure we’re on the up and up.”

He and many others praised the staff for their efforts in the aftermath. Those efforts continued with a Welcome Home banner on the side of the building and a lobby full of Easter baskets this morning. Ethridge said those are welcome back gifts with candy, coupons, and gift cards to local restaurants and businesses.

The Link is also giving tenants a 25% discount on their rent for April and May, and planning some resident appreciation events as a way to help people with their transition back.

“That was the reason why we wanted to stay. Because they’re so amazing, so sweet, right away. I love The Link and I’m so glad to be part of the family here,” Wallace said.

Some people displaced from the Harrington Street side of the building said they are on a wait list to move and hope to soon learn more details about specifics.

Staff said residents of half of the roughly 140 occupied undamaged units returned to the building by late afternoon.

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