Community rallies behind victims of apartment fire



North High Ridge Apartment was home for nearly 40 residents, including children and cats, and stood as one of the oldest, most affordable housing units in Poncey-Highland.

Sierra Pape

Around 2:00 a.m. on April 2, North High Ridge Apartments were completely engulfed in flames and burned to the ground. Nearly 40 residents losing everything and being displaced completely. Now, thousands of items of clothing and household goods and over 300,000 dollars have been pooled just on GoFundMe.
“The neighborhood is so generous and giving, and it was just really amazing,” resident Jenna Mobley said. “Sometimes, living in Atlanta, you feel like all you hear is bad news [and] how terrible everybody is, and then all of a sudden we all come together for a common cause.”
After her home became a safe haven for residents on the night of the fire, Mobley spearheaded a drive for clothes and household goods for residents.
“I just began purging my house and putting things out on the lawn,” Mobley said. “Then, some of my neighbors saw what I was doing and asked me to help. My first thought was that I need other sizes and other genders of clothing, and it really grew out of control from there, but it really just started with not knowing how to help and throwing things out on my front yard to see what happens.”
In the wake of the incident, other community members began to mobilize. Christina Schriber was a former resident in the apartment building for five years and moved out in 2020. When she received an emotional phone call from a former neighbor, she was compelled to contribute to the cause.
“I knew them [the current residents],” Schreiber said. “I lived with them for five and a half years, and I just felt like it could have very easily been me. I was one degree of separation away from the events that occurred, so I just felt like I needed to help.”
Schreiber began to solicit donations at her bar Righteous Room, and a snowball effect of support started with businesses around Poncey-Highland and Virginia Highland. This included Intown ACE Hardware, Elemental Spirits, Forte Hair Salon and the Plaza Theatre.
“The role we took at Intown Hardware was mainly to hold space for the huge amount of donations coming in from the community and to spread the word about the donations needed and the GoFundMe’s for the tenants,” Ace Hardware General Manager Pearl Carlton-Eifrid said. “We have 4 store cats and no one here could imagine the loss of not only your family cat, but also your home. My cashiers were insistent on every customer participating in any of the calls for help.”
The response in donation was more the residents alone could handle. Community members shifted to host a charity drive, where the material donations were sold at a low price with a request of donation to the GoFundMe page fora general relief fund that is divided amongst residents.
“I was expecting it to only be about 12 foot by 12 foot on the back sidewalk behind Urban Outfitters in the register,” Schreiber said. It turned out that we filled up the sidewalk from almost 30 feet wide and the GoFundMe amount raised over $2,000 in one day.”
North High Ridge residents Chad and Ester Palmer have a six-year-old son who is currently attending Springdale Park Elementary (SPARK), and experienced support from his school community.
“The school and the surrounding areas have been really helpful and supportive,” Chad Palmers said. “A lot of people have reached out by giving us some clothes for the spring. A teacher even connected with us and took him [my son] on a day trip to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens so we could have time to work on some things.”
Finding the next permanent housing situation is the challenge now for many affected residents.
“Our son wants to stay at SPARK with his school family, so we’re trying to do that,” Chad Palmer said. “But, the apartments we lived in are basically the last affordable housing in this entire area; wherever we go is going to cost more, so it’s very difficult to navigate that.”
In the fire department’s report, they noted that there was low water pressure in fire hydrants around the apartments.
“As crews were attempting to advance into the second floor for extinguishment, the water supply was not sufficient to support the number of handlines [hoses],” the report said. “It was determined that the operation would be transferred to defense [reducing fire spreading instead of completely stopping].”
Some residents are questioning the role of the city and response of the fire department, and how it led to the devastating outcome.
“If the city of Atlanta had appropriate water pressure, would that have changed the outcome?” Mobley said. “The firefighters were also fighting the fire only from North Avenue, which is the south side of the building when the fire started on the northwest side of the building. So, they were having to come up over the building and spray the hoses over the building. There’s questions like, if the fire department had been able to get down the alleyways to the other side of the building, would there have been a difference you know, and outcome.”
As the victims of the fire navigate the newfound challenges, the community efforts continue to provide aid to the residents.