Windy conditions suspected for growing grass fire into furious apartment fire

Columbus firefighters on the scene of the Woodcliff Apartment fire that displaced dozens of people Sunday.
Columbus firefighters on the scene of the Woodcliff Apartment fire that displaced dozens of people Sunday.

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Columbus firefighters say about 40 residents are looking for answers and temporary new homes, after a grass fire turned into a furious apartment fire Sunday afternoon. The fire started around 4 p.m. at the Woodcliff Apartments’ building 230-A, located on North Oakley Drive.

Gerry Scott, a resident, first learned about the fire through Snapchat. He calls the news devastating.

“When I went outside I saw my neighbors huddled around their cars,” Scott said. “And that was pretty much the signal that it was gone.”

Columbus firefighters on the scene of the Woodcliff Apartment fire that displaced dozens of people Sunday.
Columbus firefighters on the scene of the Woodcliff Apartment fire that displaced dozens of people Sunday.

Scott went inside, but quickly came back outside after smelling smoke and avoiding collapsing bits of his mangled living space. While he was able to salvage a few photos, Scott says he lost all of his school books, as well as other precious mementos.

“All my trophies from middle school are gone,” Scott told News 3. “My brother’s graduation gown is gone. And then there are more things I can’t even think of right now.”

Columbus Fire officials say windy conditions caused a common grass fire to quickly spread up the side of the Woodcliff Apartment building. Deputy Chief Greg Lang says by the time firefighters responded, they realized the fire, which started just off the St. Mary’s Road exit on I-185, had invaded the apartment building.

“So they called for additional units to respond and called for a full alarm, and you had four to five additional trucks coming,” Lang said.

Fortunately, a fire station was right next door to the flaming apartment building. Lang says dry ground can make for catastrophic kindling.

“Being as dry as it is out here, that’s why we have that burn ban in effect right now,” Lang explained. “As you can see, it’s important that people don’t disperse of cigarettes out of the window or onto the grass while we’re in the drought we’re in.”

Muscogee County recently declared a no-burn ban. Several other Georgia counties are under level-two drought restrictions as mandated by Governor Nathan Deal.

One firefighter went to the hospital after being hit with sheet rock. Meanwhile, Columbus High School junior Gerry Scott and dozens of others must deal with the pain of moving past such a huge loss.

“The full effect is there,” Scott said. “But I’m not trying to acknowledge that it’s there. Because I know if I do, I’ll have more questions coming to mind like how long will it take to get back on my feet? All my clothes…these are the only clothes I have. Where will I get my clothes? How soon are we going to be able to recuperate from all of this?”

** EDIT: News 3 corrected an earlier estimation by the fire department that 75 people had been affected by the fire.**

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