MEDINA — Investigators said the fire that destroyed one apartment and damaged two others started in a bathroom at the Nottingham Court senior community Wednesday night.
Medina Fire Chief Bob Painter said estimated damages of just less than $200,000 were caused by a heating unit in the bathroom that was left on at 760 Nottingham Drive.
Painter said the light switch in the bathroom is right next to the switch for the heating unit, and the heater probably was switched on by accident before resident Janice Pierce left her home to visit the library.
The chief said a towel rack was hanging just above the heater and likely ignited the blaze.
“(Pierce) thinks when she flipped the light switch off, she accidentally flipped her heater on,” Painter said.
Pierce’s neighbors panicked Wednesday night when they found her wheelchair in her fire-filled apartment but there was no sign of her.
“Usually if she leaves, she takes her chair with her,” neighbor Tom Knight said Thursday.
Pierce returned home after the fire broke out, to the relief of her neighbors, but her two Chihuahuas, Timmy and Gracie, did not make it out.
Knight said Pierce was very upset over losing her dogs and has struggled with that loss more than the loss of her apartment and belongings.
“They were the sweetest little dogs, friendly, and just jump up and greet you,” Knight said.
When the fire broke out Wednesday, Knight was one of the first to take notice. He was taking the trash outside and saw flames in Pierce’s apartment. He shouted for his wife to call for help at about
5:45 p.m. and he rushed to Pierce’s apartment.
“I went into the apartment and I just saw flames everywhere. I couldn’t get inside; it was too much,” he said. “I shouted for my wife to call 911 and I ran next door and banged on the door.”
Knight said he got Pierce’s neighbor, Don Jensch, out of his apartment safely. Then, with the help of police, he was able to enter his apartment and get his cat out before evacuating.
“The Fire Department and police, they were out here quick to help us out,” he said.
Pierce’s apartment was a total loss, and the apartments on either side of hers sustained damage, a fourth apartment is without electricity but sustained minimal damage, Painter said.
Painter said 30 Medina firefighters responded to the blaze, along with 15 Medina Township firefighters. Units were on the scene within 10 minutes and he said the fire was out after about 15 minutes. He said he was grateful residents helped each other evacuate.
Evacuating residents, some of whom have mobility problems, is always a concern when responding to a fire at a senior community, Painter said.
“The residents helping each other, and staying safe in the dining hall, that worked really well and helped us,” Painter said. “They did a phenomenal job.”
While this fire was not as destructive as one in 2008 that destroyed seven units at the complex, Painter said the issues with responding to a fire at Nottingham Court remain.
All of the apartments are connected with a wooden covered walkway. Units also share common walls, and roofs, except for a fire break every five units where there is space between the walls, he said.
“We spent several hours there after the fire was out making sure the roofing and everything was safe,” he said. “With the fire codes now, they would never approve a building like that.”
The apartments also are in a square layout with a large courtyard. Though scenic, it makes it difficult for fire trucks and ambulances to get to some areas of the building. Painter said his crews struggled with access because of a fence on the south side of the complex where fire trucks were parked on a neighboring street.
“That’s something we might work with them on — getting a better access plan, maybe put some gates in the fence so we can get in easier,” he said.
Property manager Cindy Brown said she has been impressed by the help and support of the community for residents at Nottingham Court. Brown said other residents came forward to offer furniture and other items for Pierce and her neighbors.
“I have been in property management for 36 years,” Brown said. “I have never seen a county do for their elderly the way this one does. They stick together.”
Contact Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.