Fire sweeps through west Champaign apartment building

Fire sweeps through west Champaign apartment building

UPDATED 9:10 a.m.

CHAMPAIGN - A fire that destroyed a west Champaign apartment building has displaced several residents.

Fifteen occupants of building T in the Stonegate Village Apartments complex at 2403 W. Springfield Ave. got out safely as fire quickly spread from a first-floor apartment and up the outside of the building to the roof about 3:40 a.m.

The fire was reported at 3:42 a.m., said fire department spokeswoman Dena Schumacher. METCAD received several calls almost simultaneously.

Fire Chief Doug Forsman said the fire was so big that his department immediately called in extra shifts from within the city's ranks and help from Urbana and Savoy.

"Anytime at 4 a.m. you have a fire in an apartment building, you are really concerned about everybody getting out. Most of the people self-evacuated," Forsman said.

Schumacher said after firefighters were sure the building was empty, they too retreated and began fighting the flames defensively, from the outside.

"We had ceiling collapsing so we pulled the firefighters out," she said. "We had two ladder trucks shooting water from the outside to the top of the building."

Schumacher said about 5:25 a.m. firefighters felt it was safe enough to go back in the building. Firefighters remained there most of the morning. Most trucks were able to return to their stations by 7 a.m.

The complex, which dates to the late 1960s or early 70s, is owned by Royse & Brinkmeyer Apartments.

Royse & Brinkmeyer Chief Executive Officer Bob Glasa was there about 4:30 a.m. making sure residents were unharmed and relocated. By 8 a.m., many of his employees were cleaning debris from the parking lots before the fire trucks had even rolled up their hoses.

Glasa said 10 of the 12 units in Building T were occupied by 15 people.

"We are able to relocate everyone. Some already have keys (to new units in the complex)," he said.

He said the company, which has owned the complex at least 25 years, has insurance and will rebuild. The loss is being estimated at $1 million.

Unfortunately, Glasa said, some of the renters did not have insurance.

"It's heartbreaking when you have someone suffer a loss like this. It's something we don't require but do advocate," Glasa said of renter's insurance. The apartments come unfurnished, he said.

About 8 a.m., displaced residents were escorted into the remains by firefighters to see what was left.

Lindsey Hammerslag came out with one of her most prized possessions: her shivering, wet cat by the name of Fivel. She wept as she emerged with the Maine coon in her arms.

Shortly after, Hammerslag's husband of three months, Ben Hammerslag, came out carrying two laptop computers and their wedding photo.

"That was the fireman's idea," he said of the framed but wet photo. "I was literally grabbing only things that we really needed."

Lindsey Hammerslag said their second-floor apartment was destroyed by fire and water.

"Everything that is not burned is soaked wet. There's two feet of water in there," she said.

The Hammerslags originally believed their rabbit, Lola, did not survive, but the animal was found safe in a closet. And another cat, Sadie, got out on its own when they fled the apartment, leaving the door open. Sadie was at the apartment of another friend in the complex.

Glasa was moved when he heard that.

"It is wonderful enough that no one was hurt but to have the pets make it out is icing on the cake," he said.

Forsman said he believed fire investigators would be able to determine a cause in spite of the heavy damage but they were still searching for the cause late this morning.

At Forsman's request, structural engineer John Frauenhoffer checked out the building even while it was still smoking. He advised Forsman that what was left of the roof and third floor would have to come off soon. Glasa said his company would put up barrier fencing around the building today to protect people from the possibility of falling debris.

The city's emergency support services team and the Red Cross were helping tenants.




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Heather J. wrote on March 28, 2012 at 8:03 am

Our of curiousity, does anyone know which building it was? I remember years ago when the "F" building had a fire from a grill. 

Really happy to hear that everyone made it out safely! Fingers crosed the residents had renters insurance. 

ddf1972 wrote on March 28, 2012 at 8:03 am

I'd be curious to know too.  I lived in the red barn building (great, huge, apt.) in the late 90s.

Mary Schenk wrote on March 28, 2012 at 8:03 am

It was building T. It's destroyed.


Heather J. wrote on March 28, 2012 at 9:03 am

Thanks, Mary. I wrote that before they updated the story. 

Sad stuff. 

A Very Busy Mom wrote on March 28, 2012 at 9:03 am

It is my guess that Station#4 was the first to respond to the fire.

Thank you to all of the Champaign Firefighters for sacrificing to keep this station open.

We will never know if things would have turned out differently if that station was closed, but am so thankful to know that they are close at hand when needed.


bears13 wrote on March 28, 2012 at 10:03 am

it was the T building. I live next to is terrible :(

Greatideas3 wrote on March 28, 2012 at 12:03 pm
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I lived at Westgate Apartments from July of 1994 to March of 2003.  My State Farm agent, Marcy McNalley suggested $15,000 in renters insurance.  Never had to use it, (the insurance).  But, as the saying goes- "It's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Especially at such a low cost."  No worry had I.


woopitydo wrote on March 28, 2012 at 1:03 pm

So glad to hear no one was hurt or killed. Even though they were just doing their job, what they love, big pat on the back to the Firemen/women. Mr Glasa also sounds like a caring landlord and individual! I am so sorry to the residents who lost pets and possesions. I for sure will donate to any orginizaton that is helping these people.

Mary Schenk wrote on March 28, 2012 at 1:03 pm

FYI: The American Red Cross was there today and almost always responds to fires.

woopitydo wrote on March 28, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Thanks Mary!  I already donate to Red Cross (wonderful orginization) I will keep a look out for anyone accepting houshold item donations as well.

L.Hammerslag wrote on March 28, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Good news- our rabbit, Lola, also made it out safe and sound! She was safe in the office closet, barely any soot on her.

Mike Howie wrote on March 28, 2012 at 7:03 pm
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That is good news! Thanks for letting us know. I've updated the story to reflect that.

Mike Howie

online editor

mmanz1 wrote on March 28, 2012 at 7:03 pm

So glad to hear that you, your husband and all your furry friends are all okay!! God Bless!

jhamil733 wrote on March 28, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Another great save by the outstanding Champaign Fire Department (and cooperating departments)!  Thanks for all you do!!!

Janet wrote on March 29, 2012 at 8:03 am

Lindsey!  I am so glad to hear about the rabbit. I don't even know you, but I was telling everyone here at my animal-loving workplace about the pic I saw of you and the cat.  I can't imagine going through it, but better to have your 'family' safe in the end...take care.