Autumn Martin (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

At 1 in the morning, neighbors of Sable Ridge woke to fire, smoke and the sound of pounding. They scrambled to evacuate the building. Desperate, one man broke a bedroom window to wake a sleeping neighbor. Another threw her children out of a window.

Thanksgiving week became a nightmare for the 90 displaced residents who escaped with their lives but not much else.

One resident, Autumn Martin, is suing her landlord, Jinni Tan, because she says she had placed maintenance requests days before the fire. Tan denies responsibility and says the fire also devastated her.

“When [neighbor] Charles woke me up, he knocked at my door, threw me his naked baby and looked back,” Martin says. “He said, ‘Do you see this?’ The whole staircase was engulfed.”

Martin says when the stove and refrigerator in her apartment blew out days before, she knew something was wrong. She is an independent contractor working for Ron Williams Construction, a firm that specializes in fire, water, hail and wind damage.

“I’ve thrown my breakers. There is something going on,” she remembers thinking. “Stuff like that doesn’t just happen. You don’t just have major appliances blowing out. It’s a fire hazard.”

After the fire, Martin set up camp in an empty apartment to help neighbors who needed assistance verifying paperwork to receive help from Red Cross. Martin’s fellow New Life Community Church members also came to help by donating cleaning supplies, hygiene products, clothing and bedding.

“When the fire was at my neighbors, I grabbed my daughter and I asked God for grace, not favor. I asked him to help me help as many people as I can, as many people who would take it,” she says.

A few days after the fire, the apartment complex was bulldozed. Many residents were left with questions and concerns. Martin is suing her landlord for personal injury because she had filed a maintenance request without a proper response within the allotted 48 hours. Just 176 hours later, the apartment fire started.

“If she wants to sue, she should sue Sable Ridge HOA, not me,” Tan says. “I have nothing to do with it. I lost, too, like everyone. It was very unfortunate for everyone. Thank God, no one was hurt.”

The fire report was released and read, “Based on witness accounts and fire patterns, it is most probable that the fire was caused by an electrical short between the first and second floors. The cause of fire will remain undetermined.”

While Martin’s security deposit has not been restored, she still considers herself lucky to have gotten back on her feet and provide help for others.

“A lot of the mothers are still not restored. They’re sleeping on air mattresses.”