MAYFLOWER — The Mayflower fire chief said efforts to save a Queens Manor apartment building that burned Oct. 14 were delayed when a resident ran over one of the fire hoses.
Thirteen families were displaced, but no one was injured in the fire, which was determined to be arson.
Queens Manor resident Carlon Ricks, 23, was arrested and charged with arson Oct. 18
in Faulkner County Circuit Court, but the investigation is ongoing, Faulkner County Sheriff Tim Ryals said. Ricks’ arraignment is scheduled for Monday in Faulkner County Circuit Court.
The blaze destroyed most of the 16-unit building, one of seven buildings in the Queens Manor complex. Three of the units were empty, said Linsay Bradbury, property manager.
Mayflower Volunteer Fire Chief Josh Woods said it took seven to eight minutes for the first engine to arrive at the complex on Arkansas 365 after the fire call came in.
“From the time we pulled up, it was already fully involved,” he said. “We pulled the line, starting pulling water, and one of the residents pulled a car over the hose and busted it,” he said. “We had to start over and lay out more lines.”
He said it was about a five-minute delay “to shut it all down, change out the hose and get everything opened back up, but five minutes in a fire is a lot of time. I understand they were trying to get a car away from the building.”
Woods said it’s “hard to say” if that would have made a difference in saving the building.
“I can’t say yes, and I can’t say no. It didn’t help our efforts that [the hose] had been run over,” Woods said. “Heat goes up. The building had a common attic, so the fire spread down the attic. That’s why you see the top floor has most of the damage. We were able to keep [the blaze] out of four or five apartments on the bottom that didn’t have fire damage or major heat damage.”
Woods said other fire departments that provided assistance were Pine Village, Oak Grove, Cato and Conway.
Ryals said arson was initially suspected; “then we used the canines from the [Arkansas] State Police that came in, and the canines alerted to an accelerant.”
He said the type of accelerant used is not known. “How [the fire] started … there’s no way of knowing that. There’s still a lot of it that is under investigation at this point.”
Apartment owner Bobby Briggs, 62, of Conway said he and resident Kyle Williams
were working on Grassy Lakes apartments, which Briggs also owns, at the back of the Queens Manor complex shortly after 6 p.m. when the fire started. He said they saw smoke; then Bradbury called him to tell him there was a fire.
Briggs said he drove the short distance to Building A and saw smoke coming from apartment A2 on the bottom floor. “I pulled around,” he said. “I can see the flame out the back window,” he said, pointing to an empty spot where the apartment once stood. “This flame was blaring. It was crazy smoke.”
Briggs said he saw a man kick in the door to the unit, which was empty. “The smoke was bellowing; it was like crazy — like Backdraft,” he said referring to a movie.
Queens Manor resident Shawn Blackmon, 30, said he kicked in another apartment door next to A2.
“I ran over and kicked the door in, but the smoke was terrible — there was no getting in there. I didn’t know it was empty,” he said. “It was wild — the fire went up.”
Blackmon said he lives in another building, “but it was still scary enough watching all the embers fly.”
He said he and Williams ran around knocking on doors to alert residents.
Because it was early in the evening, Briggs said, residents were able to get out quickly.
“Everybody was out in minutes,” he said. “Nobody’s life was in danger.”
He said he turned off the electrical power to the units so the Mayflower Volunteer Fire Department could start immediately pouring water on the building when the department responded to the blaze.
Briggs also said he told a few residents to call the American Red Cross for help, and he made sure no one entered the units while they waited for someone from the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office to arrive.
He said he watched the surveillance video of the building from the time frame of the fire, which he showed to an investigator with the sheriff’s office. According to the affadavit filed in Faulkner County Circuit Court, Ricks parked his 2000 Chevrolet Impala parallel to the unit at 6:02 p.m. and opened his apartment door. He made four trips to his car carrying clothes and a television. After his fifth trip inside, Ricks shut the door, got in his car and drove away.
Five minutes after he left, at 6:12 p.m., the video shows “heavy black smoke” coming out of the edges and underneath the front door of A2, according to the affadavit.
Briggs said Ricks and Arkemia Brock, who lived in the apartment where the fire started, moved in Oct. 5 and paid rent through Oct. 19. He said Brock came in a few days after the fire and asked for the remainder of their rent to be refunded, and Briggs said he gave it to her.
“I’m not going to say, ‘Hey, it started in your apartment.’ I’m not judge and jury,” Briggs said.
“They weren’t disgruntled,” he said of the occupants. “Their rent was paid. The thing I don’t get is motive.”
The fire comes on the heels of a homicide Oct. 2 of a 44-year-old man who was shot in the complex parking lot, but not near Building A, Briggs said.
He said the the shooting “didn’t have anything to do with this [fire].”
Faulkner County Sheriff Tim Ryals agreed. “I think it’s completely unrelated,” he said of the fire and the death.
Briggs said he is waiting on the insurance company to finish its investigation before he can tear down the charred remains.
“We’re waiting now to demo and do what we can do,” he said. “I don’t have a plan till [the insurance company] decides what it’s going to do. The insurance company said it will be a fast investigation.”
Nine families were moved into empty apartments, Bradbury said. Two families moved to other properties with the help of the American Red Cross, and two families moved in with
family and friends.
Briggs said four of the seven buildings in the Queens Manor complex, including the one that burned, were built in 2008; three were built in 2011. Nearby Grassy Lake Apartments, which he also owns, consists of two buildings that were built in 2002, he said.
“There are good people here,” Briggs said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.