Neighbor: ‘It’s sad all these people don’t have homes’

The faint pings of smoke detector battery warnings continued to sound Monday morning at an apartment building destroyed by fire at 201 Stonegate Drive.

The two-story building at Stonegate Apartments, at the back of the complex, was fenced off Sunday afternoon to prevent anyone from getting too close — and the risk of injury. But nearby apartment residents were walking and driving past the remnants of Saturday night’s fire, including some who had lived in the building.

That included Cummins, Inc. employee Ravindra Bagde, who escaped the fire from apartment 211, and drove back to the building Monday morning to see if there was anything he could salvage.

Staying at apartment 211 as a guest, Bagde said he was about to go to sleep when he smelled fumes and someone banged on the apartment door to warn them of the fire.

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He woke up his host and began gathering documents and whatever he could pick up — including his passport and phone, and left the building, he said.

Bagde, who works in information technology for Cummins and hasn’t been living in Columbus long, lost all his belongings, including two laptop computers and other personal items.

Bagde is now staying with a friend, Amit Kulkarni, who also works at Cummins. They are both from Pune, India.

Kulkarni said he advised his friend to look at things positively — such as getting a new wardrobe in the near future. But he said it was unfortunate for Bagde to have lost everything, having been in the United States for such a short time.

The two went to the building Monday morning in the hopes of looking for more of Bagde’s belongings. With installation of the privacy fencing, however, they realized that wasn’t possible.

Kulkarni said Bagde will continue to stay at his home until details are worked out about replacing his personal belongings, which he does not believe were insured because Bagde was a guest at the apartment.

Many tenants had come from India

Many of the people who lived in the building were from India, and worked for Cummins or for a contractor for the Columbus-based engine company, they said.

The fire started at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday with firefighters arriving in about seven minutes to find the apartment building engulfed with heavy fire and smoke. The building had 12 two-bedroom units with 28 people living there, Columbus firefighters said.

Firefighters and Columbus police officers made sure all the apartments were evacuated, and firefighters were forced to fight the fire from the exterior because of the heavy flames and smoke.

When the fire entered the attic space and spread through the roof line, portions of the roof collapsed, said Capt Mike Wilson, Columbus Fire Department spokesman. As of Monday afternoon, the cause of the fire remains undetermined, Wilson said.

However, investigators believe the fire may have originated in a small storage building on the south side of the residential dwelling, Wilson said. The 10-year-old apartment building was built to code, investigators said. It did not have a sprinkler system because state code requires sprinklers for three-story or larger apartments, but not two-story, Wilson said.

Alesha Fiore was walking past the building Monday morning with a stroller that carried her daughter, 3-month-old, Emerson. Fiore said she previously lived in the same apartment, 211, that Bagde escaped from but had moved to a different apartment in the complex some time ago.

“It’s sad all these people don’t have homes,” she said.

One of the Stonegate Apartments maintenance employees, Mike Smith, said he knew all the tenants and was grateful they all got out safely.

“Thank goodness for the fire department,” he said as he stood outside the damaged building.

Help for fire victims

Stonegate Apartments property manager Elizabeth McCollum said she had been at the apartment complex through the weekend and had contacted all of the residents again Monday morning to check on their welfare and continues to be available to assist them. Many of the residents who were displaced from the building are staying with friends, she said.

The tenants also are being referred to the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross for help.

Cummins officials said Monday afternoon they were assessing needs to determine how the company could assist employees who were displaced by the fire.

The American Red Cross is providing the apartment residents with any immediate needs along with lodging assistance, said Duchess Adjei, regional communication director. For additional needs, the Red Cross will work with the agency’s other community partners, she said.

Teams of American Red Cross volunteers meet with those who are displaced usually at the fire scene and provide information and assistance with temporary lodging, including hotel stays if needed, and other help.

The Salvation Army in Columbus assisted emergency responders at the fire, Salvation Army Capt. Alan Sladek said.

Water, Gatorade and energy bars were provided to emergency responders. The Salvation Army arrived about 11:30 p.m. Saturday and remained until about 3 a.m. Sunday, Sladek said.

Assistant managing editor Kirk Johannesen contributed to this story.