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.