Unfinished home burns

September 7, 2009 1:02:58 PM PDT
Investigators are trying to determine what started a fire in an unfinished home Monday.The blaze broke out in the pre-dawn hours in the L'Hermitage at Beaver Creek subdivision off Olive Chapel road at Kelly Road in Apex.

The development was to be full of homes selling for $450,000 and more, but it was the victim of the economic downturn and the collapse of the housing market. Neighbors tell Eyewitness News the builder ran out of money and walked away - leaving homes throughout the development in various states of completion. Of more than a dozen structures, only two homes are complete and occupied.

"They were the first two people to move in and they were the last two. Otherwise, it's pretty much a vacant development," explained Apex Fire Chief Mark Haraway.

"The developer just walked away from it. It's been a ghost town for about a year," said resident Bill Keyes.

The rest of the homes are just empty shells - with a roof and walls and little else.

People living nearby say the unfinished construction is a security hazard and that they see strange people coming and going through the property who shouldn't be there.

"It's just people wandering through - looking. You see kids on skateboards, and uh, it's a ghost town," said Keyes.

Local officials say the empty homes are a concern, but there are security measures in place to stop trespassing.

It was around 2 a.m. Monday morning when a passing motorist spotted flames coming from an unfinished two story home in the subdivision. By the time firefighters got there, the fire was through the roof.

"I heard a pounding on the door and it was a police officer saying there was a fire next door and you may want to get out of your house and get away. We jumped up and got dressed and it was just a shower of cinders coming down so we got out and turned on the hoses and that part of the lot - it's just covered in pine straw - and I was just afraid it was going to set the lot on fire," recalled Keyes, who lives in one of the two homes nearby that are occupied.

Firefighters were able to keep the blaze contained to just the one building, but it's a total loss. Both floors have collapsed, and it's dangerous for fire investigators to go inside.

Because there was no electricity running to the house, firefighters say the fire is suspicious.

"Because the house is vacant, because there are no utilities to the house, it would not appear there would be any reason to think it would be an accidental fire. Right now, the fire marshal is handling it as a suspicious fire of unknown origin until such time as they can get in there and actually complete their investigation and look around," said Haraway.

Residents say they're worried the neighborhood might see more fires as the empty homes are a tempting target for trespassers. Haraway says when cold weather hits, the homeless often seek out empty buildings for warmth.

"You always have the potential of people seeking shelter. They try to build a warming fire and the next thing you know it gets out of hand," he explained.

L'Hermitage at Beaver Creek is just one of several developments in central North Carolina that went bust when the housing crunch hit. Calls to developer Diversified Communities of Parsipanny, N.J. were not returned Monday - a holiday.

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