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Family displaced after fire damages duplex

LAWRENCEVILLE - A woman and her four children were displaced after a fire damaged their Lawrenceville duplex Wednesday night.

Gwinnett County Fire Department spokesman Lt. Thomas Rutledge said the fire was accidentally started by a child playing with a cigarette lighter in a bedroom.

The duplex at 239 Neal Blvd. is part of the Lawrenceville Housing Authority's Hooper Renwick Apartment complex. Rutledge said the duplex also houses an after-school facility used by the housing authority.

Rutledge said both the home and the school facility were heavily damaged in the fire, showing flames through the roof at one point before firefighters were able to stop the blaze.

He said the after-school facility was not occupied at the time, and the mother and her children were able to escape the adjoining home without any injuries.

"There was heavy damage to the duplex with extension into the attic," he said.

Rutledge said he was unsure how the child got the lighter or if the mother owned the item because she smoked.

"Never leave matches or lighters readily available to children and teach them about the dangers of fire," he said. "Parents need to explain to children that matches and lighters are tools used by

an adult."

Rutledge said the American Red Cross was notified to provide assistance to the family.

American Red Cross spokeswoman Sherry Nicholson said the organization provided food, clothing, shoes and winter coats for the family. Nicholson said the five would be staying with the displaced woman's mother.

"We offered to put them up in a hotel, but because she was staying with her mother we didn't have to do that," she said. "We normally work to get families started for a night or two and then help find them an apartment or other

housing."

Lejla Prljaca, assistant to the executive director at the housing authority, confirmed the duplex was a housing authority property and that a fire did occur.

Prljaca said she was unable to release any other information about the fire or if the organization would find other housing for the family.

The authority's director, James Thompson, was out of town and did not return messages left for him by the Gwinnett Daily Post before press time Thursday.