URBANA — A fire that displaced four families from their Urbana apartments Wednesday night was caused by a person from another country using gasoline to start a fire in his fireplace.
Urbana Fire Marshal Phil Edwards said the man sustained burns to his hands as he tried unsuccessfully to put out the fire in his first-floor apartment at 506 E. Michigan Ave., U.
"There was no ill intent. He was not trying to hide anything," said Edwards. "This is just a matter of not knowing."
Urbana firefighters were called to the three-story building about 6:45 p.m. and found fire in a first-floor apartment where a husband and wife from a foreign country were living. Edwards said because of the man's injuries he was not allowed to identify him.
"He was using the gasoline to start the fire and the stream of gasoline ended up catching the container on fire. As he was running out, he dropped it and got out as quick as he could," Edwards said.
The resident used one fire extinguisher to get part of the fire out but told firefighters he was unable to use a second because it was "locked."
"He didn't know to pull the pin. A lot of it is just not knowing," said Edwards, adding the man did not have a complete command of English.
Edwards said the couple had stored gasoline outside on their patio in other containers that were not approved for gasoline. The fire came out of their apartment and traveled upward to two balconies on the second and third floors.
"The fire did not enter any other apartments but there was heat and smoke damage," he said.
Firefighters evacuated all 18 apartments in the building, which is owned by Campus Property Management. Residents were able to sit on a heated bus. They were let back in about an hour later.
The fire was out within 10 minutes but firefighters had to ventilate other apartments for smoke. In addition to the apartment where the fire started, three other apartments had enough heat and smoke damage to make them temporarily unliveable, Edwards said.
Fire Chief Brian Nightlinger estimated damage at $50,000.
Edwards described the resident's injuries as non-life threatening.
"Because he was not from this country, I am going to take this as an opportunity to talk to the property owners and managers and let them know that when they have people sign leases, they need to make sure people are aware of what the rules are," Edwards said.