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Investigators pinpoint cause of Sage Creek Apartment fire

By BY J.R. ORTEGA - JRORTEGA@VICAD.COM
Feb. 6, 2013 at 11:01 p.m.
Updated Feb. 6, 2013 at 8:07 p.m.


Victoria Fire Department investigators on Wednesday said the cause of a blaze that swept through several residences at Sage Creek Apartments in January was a malfunctioning air conditioning and heating unit.

The early morning fire on Jan. 21, which charred 26 units and displaced several residents, was under investigation for several weeks. However, investigators said they believed they knew the cause from the beginning, said Victoria Fire Marshal Tom Legler.

"We had pretty much identified it the day of the fire," he said. "But we weren't ready to confirm anything."

Since the blaze, all the displaced residents have been relocated to other apartments either at Sage Creek or its sister property, Windsor Park.

Legler said officials did not know how the air conditioning and heating unit malfunctioned.

"Judging by the age of the equipment, it could have been at the end of its service life," he said. "But we don't know. These are all guesses."

The unit that caught fire was in the ceiling of one of the second-floor apartments.

Whether the blaze could have been prevented is hard to determine, Legler said.

Firefighters have been called to Sage Creek Apartments in the recent past. On Jan. 19, the department responded to a smell of smoke somewhere in the complex, but its source could not be found.

"That was completely unrelated," Legler said.

The apartment complex, which is operated by Steller Interests, is performing its own investigation through its insurance.

The Advocate did not hear back from managers at the complex on Wednesday.

Jim Cole, a lawyer with Cole, Cole and Easley in Victoria, said if the investigation shows the complex failed to keep its apartments habitable and up to code, it could see lawsuits from tenants who lost personal property.

"If they breach that warranty, they can be held liable," he said.

Paul Barron has lived at the complex for seven years and lived below the units that caught fire.

The 67-year-old had planned to move to Bay City to live closer to family before the blaze, so most of his belongings were not with him.

After the fire, he spent three days in a hotel room and later decided to stay in a different apartment in Sage Creek.

"They've always treated me all right," Barron said.

Barron's former apartment sustained some fire, smoke and water damage. He replaced some of his furniture.

Barron said he would not consider suing the apartment because he does not believe they were negligent.

"I don't know why I should, I've never thought like that," he said. "These are old units anyway. They might be older than I am."

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