Site of city's deadliest house fire still stands
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Side house where two adults and seven children died in a fire is a preserved scene of destruction and pain a year later.
The house could remain there for years, too, reminding people of the tragedy with a heap of melted toys and pink fabric strewn across a barren yard.
The future of the house at 2 Arlington Ave. is unsure. No one has a solid plan to demolish it, and the ruins are boarded up and nailed shut.
On March 24, 2012, at about 3:25 a.m., a blaze started inside the front of the house that authorities said ignited framework into an inferno.
That blaze took the lives of Alisha Carmella Carter-Camp, 26, and Carter-Camp's three children: Keahana Alease Carter-Camp, 8; Timothy "BJ" Bryan Carter-Camp, 7; and Jeremiah Rashaud Carter-Camp, 3.
Carter-Camp's boyfriend, Alexander Lee Seals, 27, and Seals' two daughters, Gabrielle, 5, and McKenzie, 3, also were killed.
Latasha Jones-Isabell, Carter-Camp's sister, escaped the fire. Her two children, Elijah John Scott, 3, and Emmanuel Charles Jones-Isabell, 20 months, did not.
Firefighters grapple with two theories about how the fire started. Neighbors ponder if they could have done anything differently.
Outside the house, at the intersection of Cora Street and right up the street from a fire station, is a makeshift memorial. Last week, a damp teddy bear sat in a mailbox. Flowers, living and plastic, were strewn along the fence with strips of caution tape.
Around the house, the back porch was spared by the fire and is sheltered from the weather. A tricycle sits nearby, and a child's message is written in chalk: "I [heart] you Bubby."
"Bubby" was sister Keahana's nickname for Bryan. Keahana apparently signed the message with her initials -- K.A.C.
'Hurricane came through'
Adam and Sheila Huffman live across Arlington Avenue from the burned-out house. Adam went to school in St. Albans with Alisha Carter-Camp, and Sheila knew her from her job as a desk clerk at the Holiday Inn.
"The smell is the worst thing," Sheila Huffman said. "On a rainy day, you can really smell it. It smells like char. It's like the fire is happening all over again."
Adam Huffman said he and his wife were going to move inside 2 Arlington Ave. early in 2010, but backed out after a dispute with the landlord, Delores Shamblin. Carter-Camp moved in later.
Shamblin, 75, of Mammoth, inherited the house and had intended to have it certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Adam Huffman performed odd jobs around the house, but said there was no end to the things that Shamblin wanted fixed. He bought three smoke detectors for the house, he said, before he and Sheila looked for housing elsewhere.
After the blaze, firefighters found smoke detectors in the house. Only one was working, and it was inside a drawer in the dining room.
Shamblin said Adam Huffman never touched the electricity within the house, and a HUD inspector checked out the house before Carter-Camp moved in. The inspector found nothing wrong with the wiring or anything else.
Shamblin said she's given up her search for answers. She said she can sleep at night knowing she did everything she could do to prevent the fire from happening.
"There's nothing I can do. I can't stand over people 24/7," she said. "I feel very sad, but it wasn't my fault."
Shamblin said she feels terrible for what happened and goes to church to get through it. She hasn't talked to any of the victims' families.
"I'm sorry for the lady that raised those girls, but [I] don't know who's who," the landlord said. "I just know I was good to them. When Alisha was living, she told me I was good to her. She was good, too. She was nice."
After the fire, Shamblin said, she started having heart problems and gets upset when reporters ask her questions.
"It's going to affect you. Anything like that is going to affect you," Shamblin said. "It's like being in a hurricane, I guess. I was in the spot when the hurricane came through."
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released the results of its investigation into the fire earlier this year.
Although names and some details were redacted, the report shows investigators switching back and forth between two theories about how the blaze started.
Unable to find any other ignition sources, firefighters traced the fire to a home entertainment center in the house's sunroom. There, they found the remains of a TV stand, a melted DVD player, CD and VCR cases, metal boxes, a Suddenlink cable box, an Xbox video system, a Wii video system and a PlayStation video system. It was later confirmed that Carter-Camp owned a 60-inch flat-screen TV.
Firefighters also discovered the remains of a candleholder, which was picked up by a dog trained to detect ignition sources.
Carter-Camp was celebrating her birthday the night before, but several witnesses said all candles were eventually extinguished.
"The cause of the fire should be left as undetermined due to lack of enough evidence to support the candle theory or the electronics theory," the report concludes.
The fire appeared to have traveled through the house in two directions, forming distinct patterns across multiple rooms. Latasha Jones-Isabell, the only survivor of the fire, said she went outside to smoke a cigarette before the blaze started. She told investigators she couldn't get back in the house.
Bringing it down
Shamblin said she wants to demolish the house but can't, because it is involved in possible civil litigation. She wouldn't talk about that, or say who her attorney is.
Charleston City Attorney Paul Ellis said the city has sought to demolish the house, but hit a legal wall without a court order.
The house, Ellis said, is being preserved by multiple insurance agencies representing Shamblin and the victims.
"The reason it hasn't come down is because of the various lawyers involved, in and out of state," he said. "We want it to come down, but it's being held up in the legal process."
Ellis said his elderly grandfather lives a few doors away from the burned house. "Nobody would be more in tune to the situation than me," he said.
Ultimately, the structure's demolition would fall upon Shamblin and her insurance agency, Ellis said.
Shamblin said her lawyers told her the house couldn't be demolished yet.
"I think it's been long enough myself," she said. "I know them people want it cleaned up. I can't do nothing."
Reach Travis Crum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5163.