Firefighters worked to extinguish a blaze that destroyed two buildings at the Ashford Gardens apartments Tuesday in DeKalb County. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

150 escape DeKalb fire ‘with their lives, little else’

Hours before a fast-moving fire ripped through two buildings at a DeKalb County apartment early Tuesday, residents said firefighters called to the complex about a smoky smell gave them the OK to return to the building.

The fire, smoke and water damage ultimately destroyed about 24 units and displaced residents at the Ashford Gardens apartments in the 2200 block of Plaster Road in Chamblee, authorities said.

“Approximately 150 people who occupied 24 units … escaped with their lives but little else,” American Red Cross of Georgia spokeswoman Divina Mims-Puckett said.

When crews arrived Tuesday, heavy flames spanned 50 to 75 feet of attic space, DeKalb fire Capt. Eric Jackson said. Firefighters quickly knocked on doors to get residents out before the intense blaze forced crews to work primarily from outside the buildings.

No one was injured, but the F and the G buildings were destroyed.

“We don’t have a cause as to how this fire started, but we do have an investigator that’s here on the scene that will determine cause and origin,” Jackson said.

150 residents displaced after Chamblee apartment fire.Video by John Spink/AJC

Residents suspect the earlier fire in the building may be to blame.

Abel Matias, who has lived at Ashford Gardens for seven years, said when he turned on his bathroom lights Monday, something blew.

He contacted the maintenance staff and was instructed to call the fire department about 9 p.m. He said firefighters, who stayed about an hour before they cleared most of the building, told him to stay the night in a hotel due to smoke.

“And apparently it was under control,” Matias said.

Through a translator, resident Olga Martinez gave a similar account.

She said a fire crew used extinguishers in the attic, said everything was alright and left.

The fire reignited about 2 a.m.

Fire officials have not confirmed the residents’ account of what happened.

The American Red Cross of Georgia opened a temporary shelter at Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church, and the DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency is helping to coordinate bus transportation to the shelter, Mims-Puckett said.

“At this time, 45 residents are receiving assistance at the shelter location,” she said just before 1 p.m.

She said caseworkers will continue to work with the families to ensure that their immediate emergency needs are met.

— Please return to for updates.

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