Fire victims, including 17 children, say they’re facing homelessness two weeks since apartment blaze

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A dozen Chesterfield families are desperate for help after an apartment fire left much or all of what they own destroyed.

The blaze broke out at the Rollingwood Apartment complex on Dec. 6. In an update two weeks later, fire officials told 8News they have determined what started the whole ordeal. They said something like a cigar or cigarette wasn’t put out correctly on the first floor.

Many people living in neighboring apartments lost everything they own. Two people were sent to a hospital, including one man with life-threatening injuries. Now, some of the forced-out families say they are facing going homeless.

“I was real upset and hurt and felt hopeless when I came home and everything that I had worked for was on fire,” said Christie Johnson, one of the residents displaced by the fire.

The troubling discovery came just two weeks after Johnson moved into the apartment. It was only the start of a challenging month for her and the other families.

Some of them have since been staying in hotels, others with friends or family. “

I’m very afraid. I mean, I have three children. I don’t know what to do,” another victim said. She added that she will be checking out of a hotel on Tuesday and doesn’t know where she will take her kids next.

The night of the fire, the Red Cross assisted the families with funds to last them for a few days. The victims also say their pro-rated rent money was eventually returned to them, per protocol.

However, after losing their belongings and going back and forth with renters’ insurance, the displaced famlies say they are running out of money. Many said they are just “asking for compassion” from the rental company.

“Two weeks later, those funds are now exhausted. These people have no where to go, and it’s a holiday, and there’s children involved,” said Tracey Hardney-Scott, chair of the NAACP’s Virginia State Conference Housing Committee.

“It’s like they’re abandoning us,” Johnson said.

The victims said management has already terminated their current leases but offered alternate units. However, those units allegedly come at a cost. The victims said they would have to re-apply and put down a new deposit.

In a news conference on Tuesday, the victims and advocates like Hardney-Scott, local politician Sheila Bynum-Coleman, and a representative from the Richmond Health Department to advocate for the families.

“There’s been some concerns about the management getting back with the residents, telling one person one thing and one person another. As an advocate, I’d love to see management be able to come together with the residents and help them,” said Alante Cannon, a certified community health worker with the Richmond City Health department.

“This is a large apartment complex. They have to have somewhere that they can put these people,” Bynum-Coleman said. “We have to pull together, pull resources together to make sure there’s not another child on the street.”

They victims said the Rollingwood Apartment’s management is nearly impossible to reach or reason with. The complex, which is run by parent HRG Management services, has not answered 8News’ calls about the situation either.

Representative Abigail Spanberger’s office told 8News they are working to connect the families with resources. If you want to help, reach out to any of the advocates above or the news conference’s organizer, Charles Willis, at 804-399-1111.

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