Landlord says 8 smoke detectors were installed in house where fire killed 9
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The landlord of a Charleston house that caught fire Saturday, killing two adults and seven children, said she had eight smoke detectors installed there in November.
Charleston fire investigators believe only one detector was in the house, but it was not working or installed properly.
Delores Shamblin, 74, of Mammoth, said a private company inspected her rental property at 2 Arlington Ave. at the end of October. She wanted to ensure the house would be in compliance with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's standards because she intended to rent it to a HUD client.
HUD officials never inspected the house, said Jeff Knight, chief of operations for HUD's Charleston office.
Shamblin agreed to rent the house to Alisha Carter-Camp, 26, and her three children even though they did not receive HUD assistance.
Shamblin said she lowered the rent from $615 to $550 because Carter-Camp was a working, single mother.
Carter-Camp worked full-time as a desk clerk at Holiday Inn Express on Civic Center Drive to support her children, Keahana Camp, 8, Bryan "B.J." Timothy Camp, 7, and Jeremiah Camp, 3.
Shamblin said before Carter-Camp moved in -- sometime early November -- she hired the same private company to install eight smoke detectors in the house. Shamblin could not remember the name of the company Tuesday and said she turned over all receipts to her insurance agent, Frank Norton, of Safe Insurance Co. in Huntington.
Norton said he could not comment on claims under investigation.
Shamblin registered the property with the Charleston Building Commission around the same time, she said.
Carter-Camp's sister, Latasha Jones-Isabel, 24, later moved in with her two children, Elijah Jones, 3, and Emanuel Jones, 18 months. Still later, Carter-Camp began taking care of her fiancé's twin daughters, Kiki and Gigi Seals, both 3.
Alex Seals, Carter-Camp's fiancé, traveled from Pittsburgh Friday to visit for her birthday weekend. She had planned a party Friday night before her 26th birthday on Saturday.
However, at about 3:25 a.m. Saturday, a fire broke out in the two-story wooden house while Carter-Camp, Seals and the seven children were asleep. Jones-Isabel told family members she came outside to smoke a cigarette when she noticed the fire, but flames completely engulfed the house before she could re-open the door. She was the only survivor.
The fire's cause has not been determined, but it was not intentionally set based on a preliminary investigation, said Charleston Assistant Fire Chief Bob Sharp.
Shamblin said she saw the eight detectors a month before the fire because the Building Commission selected the house for inspection.
She brought a carbon monoxide detector to the house prior to the inspection, she said. At that time, the eight detectors were still on the walls, she said.
"There is no use to have them people come up there if we weren't going to have those things [detectors]," she said. "Yes, they were there and those people saw them."
A city inspector did not enter the house because no adults were present. The inspector left a calling card for the tenants to reschedule an inspection, said Charleston Building Commissioner Tony Harmon.
After the fire, Charleston fire investigators and members of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined the house had one smoke detector under a cabinet in the kitchen. It did not work.
Shamblin said the tenants must have removed the detectors within a month of the fire.
Robert Jones-Isabel, brother of Carter-Camp and Latasha Jones-Isabel, said Monday the house did not have any smoke detectors when his sisters moved in. Carter-Camp bought her own detector but likely never installed it, he said.
According to state law, a landlord is responsible for ensuring working smoke detectors within the "immediate vicinity of each sleeping area within all one- and two-family dwellings."
Shamblin said the fatal fire has physically sickened her. She never imagined anything like this would have happened, she said.
"I have high blood pressure and I love food, but I don't want to eat. I'm up to my neck, smothered," she said. "I'm afraid."
She is grieving for the family and would like to reach out to them to offer her support, she said. Members of her church prayed with her after the fire and she has turned to religion for guidance.
"All I can do is trust in God to do the right thing and whatever goes, goes," she said. "I'm devastated by what happened."
Reach Travis Crum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5163.