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Timber Top fire victims salvage few belongings as investigators search for cause

Apartment building will likely be demolished
02-15-23 TIMBER TOP APT FIRE.jpg
Posted at 6:03 PM, Feb 16, 2023

AKRON, Ohio — Tina Brown carried a gray tub holding birth certificates, protein shakes for her 4-year-old special needs daughter, and the child's support stuffed animal.

Those were among the few items that were saved from her Timber Top apartment that was heavily damaged from a large fire on Wednesday afternoon.

Pointing to the stuffed animal, Brown said, "This is her support stuffed animal. She has another one, but we always need two because they get dirty. It's not just a stuffed animal. She can't live without this stuffed animal, like, it's an important one."

Jeremiah Zarle, 19, returned on Thursday and asked Akron firefighters to search for some of his belongings. They couldn't find his wallet or keys, but his girlfriend's purse and some coats were located, prompting Zarle to yell out in excitement after enduring a tough 24 hours.

"If there's something bad happening, there's always the good. Something good comes out it," Zarle said.

Building 24 on Treetop Trail caught fire around 4:30 p.m. Smoke poured from the complex, and the flames spread quickly on a windy day.

"The whole roof just encaved in flames. Smoke everywhere," Zarle said.

As Zarle scrambled to safety, he did everything he could to make sure everyone else near him escaped the fire.

"To be honest, what was going through my head was just make sure everybody had their animals and kids out. That's what I wanted. Everybody out," he said.

No one was injured, but several pets were killed.

Joshua Robertson and his girlfriend, Laurel Williamson, saved several of their pets, but three cats didn't make it.

"We didn't get them all. We left three cats behind," Williamson said. "We tried," Robertson said as they both fought through tears.

Brown was cleaning her bathroom when she heard a boom and smelled smoke and saw flames on a nearby balcony.

"I was already choking up from the smoke, so I didn't want to be in there any longer than we were because of her (daughter's) lungs. She shouldn't be breathing that in, and then I didn't want to be trapped," she said.

Some 24 hours later, Akron fire and ATF investigators searched for evidence in the building, hoping to find clues that would lead to the origin and cause of the fire. As of Thursday evening, a cause had not been determined.

The American Red Cross is assisting several of the victims by providing clothing, vouchers and other items.

Danielle Novak, managing director of AIY properties, said the building will likely be demolished, and the staff is doing whatever it can to assist the displaced residents.

"We are currently working to try to find them other units on our current property and some of our sister properties to help them transfer and move over into those units, and at this point in time, we've told every resident they don't need to worry about March's rent," Novak said. "I'm completely devastated and beside myself for them."

In the meantime, Zarle keeps counting his blessings and plans to take things one day at a time.

"I just moved here on my own. I'm young and trying to figure out how this life stuff works," he said.

RELATED: Akron firefighters battle fire at Timber Top apartments

Akron firefighters battle fire at Timber Top apartments