Hydrants not working in fire that destroyed Clayton County apartment complex

Investigators are trying to determine why fire hydrants closest to the scene weren’t working
Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 6:48 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) – A fire that ripped through an apartment complex in Clayton County left 32 people homeless on Wednesday. Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the fire, but also trying to determine why fire hydrants closest to the scene weren’t working.

“Everyone from over here. This is how we were alerted,” said Shawanda Walton. “Everyone was running over here saying fire, get out. Knocking on doors, kicking in doors.”

Walton and boyfriend Edward Hightower and their three kids lost everything in the fire at The Ashford at Stoneridge Apartments along Flat Shoals Road in Riverdale. They lived there for the past nine years.

“My whole entire life was in that apartment. Me and my family have to start over,” said Walton.

The Walton family and all of their neighbors managed to escape the fire, but then they had to watch on as firefighters struggled to find water to put out the flames. 16 apartments were destroyed.

“They were like scrambling, you know. They were scrambling! They check one over there, no pressure. They went down to the bottom of the hill, no pressure,” said Edward Hightower.

The Clayton County fire chief said firefighters attempted to hook hoses up to at least five hydrants that were nearby, but none of them worked. He said the water pressure was way too long.

“So, the question becomes, did something rupture when we opened the first plug? Was there a surge in the system? Maybe there was a surge in the system. Maybe there was a weak pipe and that caused a hole or a rupture – some sort of leak,” said Chief Landry Merkison.

Firefighters were then forced to run hoses from outside the apartment complex to get water to the building, but by then it was too late. Fire had spread to the entire building.

“I believe if there were water out here, they could have saved that building because when they got here, they stopped most of the fire from the unit it was coming from,” said Chester Jackson, a neighbor. “But when those fire hydrants didn’t have any water in them - the flames got bigger and bigger.”

Chief Merkison said the county oversees inspections of the hydrants once a year. They were last inspected on October 21, 2021. Then, they were working properly. Merkison suspects a water main ruptured when crews initially attempted to tap into a hydrant, but his team is still investigating.

The apartment complex management team and the American Red Cross are helping the families who were displayed.

Meanwhile, Shawanda Walton and her family are left planning two birthday parties. One for one of her kids, the other for herself – with no place to call home.