CLARKSTON, GA -- Fire destroyed a building in one of DeKalb County’s most blighted communities Wednesday. The fire at Brannon Hill in Clarkston displaced 20 people, including four children, according to fire officials. It also spotlighted a story we’ve been covering for at least six years—about a barely inhabitable community and the challenges to fix it.
"I just lost everything," said Kenyata Smith, dabbing at her eyes. She and her baby barely got out before the flames consumed her home.
"Me and my family, we just lost everything. I didn’t have a chance to get my clothes, no shoes. I didn’t get a chance to grab none of my baby’s stuff. I’m glad that we made it out alive," Smith said.
Firefighters working the blaze had to step and drive around two deep sinkholes that had formed weeks or months earlier in the asphalt outside the burning building. Although the Brannon Hill complex is blighted by destruction and decay, it also has countless families living here. 11Alive News first reported on the complex in May 2010.
Nellie Smith also lost her home to the fire. She says she moved in three months ago because "at first, I needed somewhere to go. That’s a three bedroom. And for $400 (a month), it was pretty good."
But not so good to DeKalb County officials, who have fielded complaints about Brannon Hill for years. A judge recently ordered its multiple owners to bring it up to code within the next two months.
"This is a condo which is owned by multiple owners which, in the past, has made it very difficult for the county to be able to take any action," said Jeff Long, an aide to district one commissioner Nancy Jester. "There’s a lot of safety concerns."
The cause of the fire remained under investigation Wednesday afternoon.