Clinton man dies in Tuesday apartment fire

A 47-year-old man died in an apartment fire that neighbors discovered about 7:15 a.m. Tuesday, Clinton Police and Fire Department officials said.

Police Chief Fred Dunn identified the victim as Christian Phillips, who lived in a six-unit building at Clinton Manor Apartments off Plank Road.

Dunn said Phillips was disabled and used a wheelchair. His body was found in the living room of his residence, where he lived alone.

The blaze did not damage any of the other five residences in the complex. Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, which caused only minor damage to the exterior of Phillips’ residence.

Apartment manager Ida Jones said the apartments in each building are separated by firewalls.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had anything like this,” Jones said.

Fire Chief Douglas Beauchamp said the fire caused heavy damage inside the unit.

“By the amount of damage, it burned quite a while before anyone saw the smoke,” Beauchamp said.

Beauchamp said the apartment had a smoke detector wired to the building’s electrical system and did not need a battery to operate.

Firefighters were unable to immediately determine if the smoke alarm sounded, however, Beauchamp said.

“It could have gone off but burned up later,” the fire chief said.

A State Fire Marshal’s Office news release said the fire began at or near a couch in the living room.

A neighbor reported hearing the sound of a smoke detector and smelling smoke about 2 a.m. but was unable to identify the source, the news release says, adding that investigators determined the fire was a slowly developing, smoldering fire that produced lethal levels of smoke and toxic gases.

Investigators were unable to rule out careless or unsafe smoking practices as a possible cause of the fire, the news release says.

Dunn said the apartment’s front door was barred by a deadbolt lock. He said he was successful in kicking the door open on his second try, after getting a running start.

Thick, black smoke immediately boiled out of the residence, Dunn and Assistant Police Chief Ned Davis said.

“The fire wasn’t that big, but it had blazed up,” Davis said.

Police borrowed a neighbor’s garden hose to begin spraying water on the flames until the town’s firetruck arrived.

Volunteer firefighters from Ethel responded to help Clinton’s firefighters, and the State Fire Marshal’s Office sent investigators to the scene.

Beauchamp said the cause of the fire remained undetermined after the initial investigation, with no obvious signs indicating where the blaze originated.