Emergency units responded to a call just after 6 p.m. about a fire at Building 7 in the Marquis Place Apartments at 1019 Franklin Road, north of Delk Road.
The first Marietta police officer to reach the scene saw fire and smoke coming from the roof, according to Marietta Fire Marshal Scott Tucker.
By the time both Marietta and Cobb County firefighters arrived, residents were fleeing the building with assistance from the police, Tucker said.
No injuries were reported, but the effects of loss will remain with the families for some time.
One of the displaced residents reportedly included a 92-year-old woman who says she lost everything.
Tucker said the fire was mainly contained in the attic area, which caused heavy damage to 16 units in the two-story brick building.
Investigators surveyed the charred debris Friday morning and determined the origin of the blaze was above apartment 7H. The cause is still being investigated.
“There is no finding to support any intentional act was committed, and the fire is being considered accidental in nature,” Tucker said.
Sherry Nicholson with the Metropolitan Atlanta Red Cross chapter said a team of 11 volunteers rushed to the complex Thursday night to help the 20 families who were forced to flee their homes, including 47 adults and 24 children.
The Red Cross group provided food, clothing and lodging for four nights at local hotels.
“We don’t want to leave them standing without food and shelter,” Nicholson said.
Disasters in low-income areas, like the fire Thursday night, can have a devastating impact on families who then have to rely on charity groups.
The role of the Red Cross is to reach out to victims to get them quickly back up on their feet after being knocked down.
The first priority is addressing the residents’ immediate needs, like filling prescription medications that have been lost, Nicholson said.
Tucker said some evacuated units were far enough away from the fire that residents may be able to salvage items when it is safe to reenter the building.
Nicholson said she was told that the Marquis Place Apartment property managers would try to relocate the families into vacant units in the complex.
After the first night, it is a quick process of helping these displaced residents start thinking about next steps, Nicholson said. For instance, on the list is contacting insurance companies or reaching out to used furniture stores for essential items.
Some residents may not have renters’ insurance.
“It is great if people can find a new place to live, but they often have nothing for that space,” said Nicolson, who added the Red Cross can often help by donating mattresses and bed linens.
Linking up with other charities
The trauma of losing everything can cause people to not think clearly, Nicolson said.
On Friday, case workers started one-on-one counseling with the families to evaluate specific needs, knowing that the Red Cross aid can only last a few days. The organization tries to connect the victims with other charities and government agencies that can offer more long-term assistance, Nicolson said.
The Metropolitan Atlanta Red Cross chapter serves 13 counties and does not have an office in Marietta.
The disaster action teams are mobilized from all over the state and region, with the Atlanta office coordinating the efforts.
Michelle Cooper Kelly, who has announced she will run against Jim King in the Nov. 5 election for the Ward 6 seat on the Marietta City Council, said her thoughts and prayers are with the families. The apartment complex is in Ward 6.
“Restoring a sense of normalcy could be a long process and a major financial burden for those families. Times like these are when communities demonstrate the most compassion when neighbors are in need,” said Kelly, who is the vice chair of the Marietta Housing Authority board.
The Marquis Place Apartments lies in the center of the redevelopment district targeted by the proposed $68 million redevelopment bond that would allow the city to purchase and demolish complexes along the Franklin Road corridor.