Birthday cards, family heirlooms, children’s drawings and countless other sentimental belongings are lost under a monstrous heap of debris that once was the Reserve at LaVista Walk apartments in northeast Atlanta.

Contractors this week began tearing down the crumbling building that went up in flames in November. The plan is to open the road in front of the complex by Monday.

“Three weeks of knocking it down, three weeks of hauling it off. We’ll be done in six weeks,” Project Manager Vernell Burris told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution outside the building Wednesday.

The complex — now reminiscent of a war zone, with pink insulation hanging onto deteriorating walls blackened from smoke and mold — sits in the middle of a bustling part of the city. On Wednesday morning, several motorists drove through the detours and ate breakfast at The Original Pancake House across the street.

The four-story building burned down Nov. 10 after two people set off fireworks in the complex, police said at the time. Atlanta fire Chief Rod Smith described the blaze as “a complete anomaly” because it started on the roof, adding that it might have impacted and delayed the alarm and sprinkler systems.

Since the fire, a stretch of Lavista Road near the intersection of Cheshire Bridge Road has been closed. Burris, who is with DIG Earthworks, said the building should be completely demolished and all the debris hauled from the site in 45 days, or by late May.

“The reason it took so long (to start demolishing) was because of the insurance claim,” Burris said. “You saw the criminal charges that were placed. The mayor’s office really expedited the permit process. ... This is the first time that this went so smoothly and so fast. I mean, I had a permit probably within 72 hours.”

Robert Stokes, 42, and Charnelle Gunn, 24, are accused of causing the blaze, which led to 17 people being treated for smoke inhalation and other minor injuries. They face charges of criminal damage to property and reckless conduct. Their cases remain pending.

Within days of the fire, a class action lawsuit was filed against the building’s owners. Attorney Doug Dean with the Dean Thaxton law firm told reporters at the time that “the building had a damaged fire suppression system and property owners created a culture of frugality, ignored residents’ complaints, and knowingly put residents at risk.”

A December 2022 fire inspection report said Atlanta Fire Rescue did not find the complex to be out of code at that time.

Documents provided by the law firm show that attorneys spoke to Atlanta officials Wednesday and were told that “the city does not think it has authority to investigate whether (the Reserve at) LaVista (Walk) violated any safety ordinances.” The document adds that “residents believe that the city should investigate” whether Avenium, the New Jersey-based property management and real estate company that owns the complex, “knowingly violated safety ordinances and put residents at risk.”

Kayla Carter, who was attending a country music concert the night of the fire, had to say goodbye to all of her belongings. The fire destroyed her school laptop from South College, class notes, pictures and the obituary of her brother who died about three years ago.

“It definitely hurts,” she said days after the blaze. “And knowing that I cannot get those things back. ... I have nothing, like not even a sock to my name.”

Residents previously said that several apartments were looted in the days following the fire. Burris said residents still have not been able to return to the building to retrieve personal items.

“The unfortunate part is when the fire broke out, no one was allowed to come back in. So everything that they left in there — grandmother’s ring, heirlooms — that’s gone. That’s the real impact,” he said.

The AJC reached out to Mayor Andre Dickens and the property’s owner for comment and information about future plans for the site but did not receive a response.