Cigarette stuck in AC unit blamed for Christmas morning apartment fire

The devastating Christmas morning fire that destroyed dozens of apartments in a Sterling Heights complex was started by discarded cigarette that got lodged in an air conditioning unit.

The Sterling Troy Apartments near 15 mile and Dequindre burned Christmas morning. According to firefighters, the fire was started accidentally when a discarded cigarette became lodged in an air conditioning unit. 

Authorities believe the AC unit malfunctioned caused a fireball. 

Investigators say they also know why this fire spread so quickly: an open door. According to Sterling Heights Fire Chief Chris Martin, the door allowed the flames to quickly burn through a hallway.

"The room where it started, the person - when they exited - they were worried about knocking on doors and getting people out and they left their door open. So when they left their door open, it had oxygen from the outside and brought the fire into the main hallway, down the main hallway and all the way into the lobby by Dequindre. And the outside flames rolled all the way into the attic. The attic is just a bunch of two-by-fours with a bunch of air and it allowed it spread quickly," Martin said.

Officials said the fire burned dozens of apartments. One of those residents was Adnorf Ortiz who knows he's lucky ot be alive.

Ortiz had just finished at 12-hour shift at the hospital and was in a deep sleep when he heard the banging noise and commands to get out. When he saw the smoke in his apartment he knew he had to move fast 

"I jumped out the window kicked the window screen cause it was locked and I forced it - and just jumped out," he said. "All my stuff was totally burned for sure. I got my wallet and I got my cell phone and that was all I got yesterday."

Fire crews say it appears all residents have been accounted for though a few did receive minor injuries but will recover.

One fire fighter continues to recover after breaking his leg when he got it tangled into a fire hose.

Neighbors are in need of help and donations can be dropped off at Sterling Troy Apartments from 8 am to 5 pm or you can call the Leasing Office at 586-268-2193

"There's just a lot of families that are displaced and if people want to help they can bring things to the location food, clothes, accepting here," Martin said.

In a statement to Fox 2, property managers say they are currently working with local authorities and relief agencies to provide immediate assistance and support to residents in need.