Fort Atkinson and surrounding fire departments responded to a fire at an eight-unit apartment complex at 1047 Whitewater Ave. in Fort Atkinson early Friday morning.
Fort Atkinson Fire Chief Daryl Rausch said the call came in at approximately 5:42 a.m., and that he was on scene in about six minutes. The first fire engine arrived about two minutes later.
After a MABS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) alert was activated, firefighters from Jefferson, Lake Mills and Milton responded to assist Fort Atkinson firefighters battle the blaze and provide mutual aid.
“There was heavy fire from the second-floor deck extending into the building,” Rausch said. “We had a very quick knock-down of the exterior fire, and then we transitioned to the interior fire and started pulling ceilings.”
The chief said there was a significant amount of fire in the attic.
Four apartment units are located on the first floor and four on a second floor, he noted.
“So, pretty much the four units on the south end of the building were affected,” Rausch said. “There was a firewall in the attic that stopped the progression (of flames) from the north half.”
Firefighters ended up pulling down most of the ceilings in one apartment, he said, and some ceiling in the second-floor apartment.
“And both of the downstairs apartments had water damage and smoke damage,” Rausch said. “The other four (units) had light to moderate smoke damage.”
Residents of the apartment were home at the time of the fire, the chief said, noting they were two adults, a male and a female, and a juvenile female.
“(Fort Atkinson) police officers did assist those people from the apartment,” Rausch said. “The gentleman who lived there was disabled, so police officers carried him out and then they assisted the other two (individuals) from that apartment.”
The adult male from the apartment where the fire broke out was transported by Ryan Brothers Ambulance Service to Fort Memorial Hospital, he said, with “a medical condition unrelated to the fire.”
“(Police then) went in and cleared the rest of the apartments to make sure everybody else was out of the building,” Rausch added. “There were at least two dogs, two cats and a rat that were in the four apartments there.”
Those pets, he said, escaped unharmed.
As to cause of the blaze, the chief said the fire started on the second-floor deck.
“They (residents) had experienced a fire at 4 a.m. out on the deck and they thought they had extinguished it, but apparently had not,” Rausch said. “And at 5:40 a.m., somebody driving by saw the fire and called 911. So, we believe that the fire started from improperly discarded smoking materials.”
The fire, he said, is believed to have started on the outside of the apartment and then spread up into the attic from the exterior of the building through the soffits.
“The four (units) on the south end, I would believe, are still probably not occupied because of the rehab that’s going to have to be done,” Rausch said. “They certainly are repairable.”
The chief estimated the fire caused approximately $100,000 damage between the building and its contents.
“The apartment where the fire was is pretty much a total loss,” Rausch said. “The other apartments will take some cleaning, but I would think that they could occupy those pretty quickly.”
The American Red Cross, he said, is assisting those residents who were displaced by the fire, providing temporary accommodations until the apartment units can be ready for occupancy once again.
Investigation of the fire, he said, is closed at this point.
“We (fire department) have turned the building back over to the property management company, Meridian,” Rausch noted.
Firefighters cleared the scene at 9:07 a.m. Friday, he said.
The fire chief emphasized the need for caution in ensuring that all embers from a fire are extinguished.
“People must make sure that smoking materials are dealt with appropriately,” Rausch said. “In this case when they (residents) thought that they had the fire out, had they called us (fire department) we could have made sure that the fire was properly extinguished. Unfortunately, they didn’t, so we ended up there (with) a much larger incident because of that.”