ASHEVILLE â€“ Two student apartment dwellers escaped unharmed from a fire that gutted a commercial building early Monday on Merrimon Avenue.
The fire was reported at 3:25 a.m. at 498 Merrimon Avenue, near the W.T. Weaver Boulevard intersection.
Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the blaze, Asheville Fire Department acting battalion chief Eddie Wyatt said. The building was fully involved in flames when firefighters arrived.
The apartment residents â€” two UNC Asheville students â€” lived on the upper floor of the large brick building. One student was able to make it out of the burning building on his own, while the other was rescued by a firefighter who had to force open a door, firefighter Kelley Klope said.
The local Red Cross is assisting the students with immediate needs, she said.
The owner of the building, Robert Johnson, said a screen printing business occupied the lower floor of the building.
â€œI have no insurance, so I donâ€™t know what Iâ€™m going to do,â€ Johnson said. â€œI just hate it.â€
The brick building was built in 1916, Johnson said. He said he has owned it since 2002.
About 55 firefighters responded to the blaze, finally bringing it under control at 5:05 a.m.
Firefighters initially began an interior attack on the fire but had to back out of the building because of the growing intensity of the blaze.
â€œIt became a defensive attack,â€ Wyatt said.
The owner of an adjacent building, a warehouse, expressed concern about damage to her building because the structure shares a brick wall with the burned building.
Preliminary findings showed the warehouse had some water in the basement level.
â€œThe building is structurally sound,â€ said Dawn Demetris-Stucker, whoâ€™s family owns the warehouse. But she said sheâ€™s hoping the shared brick wall suffered no significant damage.
Busy Merrimon Avenue was closed for hours, finally reopening at 10:45 a.m.
The fire is under investigation by the Asheville-Buncombe Arson Task Force.