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Residents of this Army housing building in Mannheim, Germany, where an apartment fire devastated one sergeant's home Monday night, say they've been complaining about faulty wiring for months.
Residents of this Army housing building in Mannheim, Germany, where an apartment fire devastated one sergeant's home Monday night, say they've been complaining about faulty wiring for months. (Jon R. Anderson / S&S)

MANNHEIM, Germany — An Army enlisted family has lost everything after a fire ripped through its Mannheim government housing quarters Monday night.

Officials say the cause of the fire — which caused $175,000 in damage — is still under investigation.

Neighbors in the four-story “stairwell” apartment building, however, say they’ve been complaining about faulty wiring for months, but to no avail. Army officials, however, say this is the first they’ve heard of electrical problems in the housing area.

Sgt. Michael John’s apartment caught fire at around 8:30 p.m., according the residents in building 685 in Benjamin Franklin Village.

“His daughter ran downstairs and said the house was burning,” said neighbor Teneeshia Taylor. “I ran up there and saw him trying to put it out with a fire extinguisher.”

“The fire apparently started in the child’s room,” said Army spokeswoman Christine Gebhard.

Gebhard said it was still too early in the investigation to determine what caused the fire, however a source close to the investigation said preliminary findings do point to some kind of electrical fire.

“It looks like it may have been a problem with a space heater — which are against regulations — or problems with a TV,” said the official.

A fire caused by electrical problems won’t surprise many of the building residents.

“The wiring here is terrible, said Kasey Rodriquez, who lives directly below the apartment that got gutted. “We’ve complained about this repeatedly, but nobody seems to listen.”

Rodriquez and her husband, a sergeant with the 512th Maintenance Company, say they have problems with flickering lights, faulty sockets and breakers constantly getting flipped.

“I’m afraid to plug anything in because it’s not unusual to see sparks flying when I do,” she said.

The Taylors, in the apartment below them, say they’ve been having the same problems.

“I don’t feel safe here,” said Teneeshia Taylor. “We’ve asked for help, but nobody seems to do anything except change a few light bulbs and tell us everything is fine.”

Her husband, Sgt. Vance Taylor, who works at the 51st Transportation Company, shrugs his shoulders. “We don’t know what else to do,” he says, “but this isn’t a safe building.”

Until they get straight answers on what caused the fire, the Taylors say they’re sleeping in the living room, near the single exit out of their apartment.

And apparently the residents of building 685 aren’t the only ones who are worried.

Taking her baby out for a walk through the neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, Kimberly Craig stared at the damage from the sidewalk.

“We have the same problems,” she said. “There’s a light that I don’t even turn on any more because it sparks. An outlet that I used to plug my hair dryer into sparks, too.”

But Army officials say they have no record of complaints regarding electrical problems.

“The housing office or the contractor responsible for maintenance in the housing area have not received any work orders from the building — any building in that area — for electrical problems,” said Gebhard. “Sparks coming out of outlets would be a serious problem and become a priority work order,” he said.

She also noted that problems with wiring have never been raised during local town hall meetings.

“This has never come up before,” she said.

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