JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The foundation that owns the Eureka Gardens apartments apologized Thursday for a major natural gas scare at the complex late Tuesday night that sent residents into a panic.
The fire marshal blamed the property management and its hired maintenance crews for the incident, which one source within the fire marshal's office called "vindictive."
Residents were alerted by property management Tuesday that the gas lines throughout the complex needed repairs and would likely be turned off until late night or early morning.
A maintenance crew brought in from Alabama by the property management, BSR Trust based out of Montgomery, Alabama, shut off the gas lines to all the units in the Eureka Gardens complex at the same time. Shutting off the gas extinguishes the pilot lights in the stoves and water heaters in the units, state fire marshals said.
After making repairs, the maintenance crew turned on the gas again late at night in waves to sections of the complex, but the pilot lights needed to be individually re-lit in all the units.
According to state fire marshals, the gas lines in the units are connected, therefore if one unit's pilot is re-lit gas can then flow into the other connected units.
Residents were asleep, others were gone, and crews did not have keys on hand to get into units immediately to warn tenants or fix the problem as gas leaked into the homes.
Maintenance crews shut off the gas again to all 400 units, and the fire marshal, who had been called to the complex along with Hazmat, made the crew get keys for the units before restoring gas.
According to a letter Thursday from the Global Ministries Foundation, the Eureka Gardens management team contracted WW Gay to repair the gas leak situation. The letter said that final repairs to the gas line were finished around 5 p.m. Tuesday and that WW Gay and Eureka Gardens management "proceeded to turn individual unit's pilot lights back on."
The letter said that all gas services were restored by 1 a.m. Wednesday.
"Eureka Gardens would like to express its sincerest apologies for the inconvenience a recent gas leak has caused its residents," the letter said.
A source within the fire marshal's office said what happened Tuesday night was "vindictive" and an "example of passive aggressive behavior against these tenants."
The source said not giving tenants a fair timeline for repairs and awakening people at night, including young children who had school the next day, was wrong and dangerous.
These are the same tenants who reported their deplorable living conditions to News4Jax and city officials two months ago after the complex received a passing Department of Housing and Urban Development score. HUD has since voided that score and inspected all 400 units at the complex last week.
One of the changes HUD said it wants to see at the complex is a restructuring of the property management group, which was hired by property owner the Rev. Richard Hamlet with Global Ministries Foundation.
The city also conducted a two-day code inspection sweep at the complex that uncovered hundreds of violations. That sweep led to eight fire and gas violations sent to GMF to be fixed immediately.
HUD plans to meet Monday with the city to go over its inspection findings and a timeline for repairs. The property was built in 1968.