A Columbia child playing with a cigarette lighter caused a fire in a Trinity Drive apartment complex that left 17 people homeless, the Columbia Fire Department reported early Monday.
The fire, which happened Sunday night, did $90,000 damage, said fire department spokesman Brick Lewis.
The 17 displaced people — who include nine children — are being assisted by the American Red Cross of Central South Carolina, which has provided a hotel and comfort kits of personal hygiene items.
The four destroyed units at Pine Haven Villas Apartments, 1400 Trinity Road, were already engulfed in flames as fire engines approached the scene, Lewis said. The complex is off Greenlawn Drive.
Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins urged all parents to talk with children about the dangers of lighters and matches.
He offered these tips: Have a match and lighter round-up, store lighters and matches out of sight and reach, teach toddlers to tell you when they find matches or a lighter, and stress to children that matches and lighters are not toys.
While fires like Sunday’s that result in the displacement of multiple families are “few and far between,” home fires in South Carolina are not rare, said Red Cross spokesman Stephen Hudson.
The Palmetto SC Region of the Red Cross, which covers 35 counties across the state and includes the Central SC chapter, is one of the busiest areas in the country for home fires, Hudson said. He said it’s typical for the Red Cross to respond to as many as nine house fires in the region on any weekend.
“We don’t have nearly the population that a Philadelphia has, but we still lead regions like Philadelphia or the Baltimore area,” Hudson said. “That’s kind of scary for us.”
It takes an average $1,250 for the Red Cross to support a family of four impacted by fire, Hudson said. People can donate by calling the Central SC Chapter at (803) 540-1200.