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Firefighters Battle 3-Alarm Blaze at Sugar Creek Apartments

Written by on February 13, 2021

Photo courtesy Mick Humer, Fire Chief

 NORMAL, Ill.- Firefighters battled freezing temperatures at a multi-alarm blaze at Sugar Creek Apartments at 606 S. Linden Street this afternoon.  Fire Chief Mick Humer said the fire destroyed or heavily damaged 12 apartments, but fortunately all tenants have been accounted for and there are no reports of any injuries to tenants or firefighters.

ISU nursing student and Sugar Creek resident Liz Williams managed flee the flames after Normal Police pounded on her door to wake her up from a sleep. Williams says her alarm did not go off. Williams’ apartment had smoke damage, she was one door down from the apartment which was on fire.

“You could see smoke coming and drifting over to ours, but when I got out you couldn’t see any flames until about five minutes after I was out,” said Williams.

Normal Fire Department responded at 1:24 PM to the report of an apartment on fire on the third floor of the three-story complex, which is located near the intersection of Linden Street and Vernon Avenue.

Humer said first arriving units reported heavy fire coming from the roof of the structure and immediately called for more resources.   A second alarm was struck, which called in off-duty Normal firefighters, and Bloomington Fire Department sent an engine company, two aerial ladder trucks, and a warming/rehabilitation unit.

“I thought for sure it was going to spread all the way, but just from the time I got out of my apartment to the time we left it was coming through the roof,” said Williams. “The firefighters were like, ‘We need ladders! We need ladders!’ And they were taking their axes and I saw them putting on their smoke face shields. It was a very big adrenaline rush since I had just woken up, and I was not properly clothed. I didn’t think to grab anything else.”

Williams grabbed her laptop and a coat, looked in her roommate and ISU student Jessica Wenberg’s room for her laptop and then evacuated.

Wenberg was not home, but away for the weekend.

Humer said firefighters made an aggressive interior attack on the fire initially and began to make progress, however, the fire conditions deteriorated quickly and firefighters transitioned into a defensive mode, which uses large diameter hoses and aerial ladders to spray water into the building from the exterior.

The fire quickly consumed the majority of the roof structure, which collapsed into the 3rd floor apartments.  Humer said the first and second floor units were heavily damaged by fire as well, which traveled inside the walls and void spaces between units. What wasn’t damaged by fire and smoke was heavily damaged by the water that was used to fight the fire.

The fire scene was the second of two major incidents happening simultaneously in Normal, the first being the freight train derailment near Vernon Avenue and Hester Street.   To prevent a shortage of manpower at the fire and to cover responses to other calls in the Town, a third alarm was struck, which calls in resources from Bloomington Township, Towanda, Carlock, and Hudson Fire Departments.    Some resources were utilized at the fire, while others were used to respond to calls for service in Normal while our resources were tied up.

The fire took over two hours to bring under control and required fire crews to rotate in and out of operation due the extreme cold.   The sub-freezing temperatures also meant that fire apparatus had to pump water continuously to prevent the pumps and hoses from freezing.   Once sprayed, the water created hazardous conditions around the fire ground as it turned to ice.

The building was built prior to the requirement for a fire sprinkler system, but was built with fire walls which extend from the basement to above the roof line and prevent fires from spreading across the attic space through the entire building.    Fortunately, firefighters were able to contain the fire to one section of the building and the fire did not break through the fire walls.

In all, 12 apartments are heavily damaged or destroyed.   A damage estimate is not available until insurance adjusters are able to survey the damage.

The Sugar Creek Apartments are managed by First Site Apartments and are largely populated with students from Illinois State University.   First Site and the university are working with the tenants of the building to secure temporary housing until such time as it is safe to return to the undamaged apartments in the complex.

Williams says First Site extended offers of stay at the Comfort Inn and Suites by Walmart.

Williams will be staying with her boyfriend who had to navigate traffic from the derailment in order to get to her at the First Site office. Williams was taken there by a First Site leasing agent who happened to be working and drove to his residence in Sugar Creek to save his dog from the fire.

Firefighters remain on the scene extinguishing hot spots and will likely remain through the night.

Normal Fire Department Investigation Team is already working to determine the origin and cause of the fire.

 

Williams says an electrical fire had taken place this past summer in the apartment beneath hers.

Normal Fire Department wishes to express our gratitude to Bloomington, Bloomington Township, Carlock, Hudson, and Towanda Fire Departments for their support at this incident.

 

“I didn’t even think about being a nurse in this situation. All the first responders there were so good and were doing everything. They would just come up to you, you didn’t have to go find someone. It gave me hope. I like doing that for other people, it is nice to see it on the other side,” said Williams.