Apartment fire displaces 80 residents

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Investigators believe a cigarette sparked a massive fire at the Incline Terrace apartment complex in Salt Lake City. The four-alarm blaze started early Saturday morning at 1044 E. 400 South. Now nearly a hundred residents are without a home.

Fire investigators say the residents of a unit on the southeast corner of the sixth floor, where the fire started, regularly discarded cigarettes into a plastic bucket on their balcony. Apparently a cigarette in the bucket ignited when winds picked up last night. That ignited other material and spread to the building.

As a result, 80 people were evacuated and some residents lost everything.

One witness, Jason Harper, said, "It spread really quickly." Once the fire started, residents got out quickly.

Melissa Wentz said, "We threw on our clothes. We went out and watched everybody come pouring out of the building." Wentz says her boyfriend woke her up. Firefighters had to wake up others.

Scott Freitag with the Salt Lake City Fire Department said, "There were a lot of people asleep. We had to force entry into many of the apartments, into the doors. We had to wake people up."

"There were some disabled people who needed to be carried out by firefighters," Freitag added.

In all, six floors were evacuated. No injuries were reported. Mike Williams lived on the sixth floor. "Our apartment is gone," he said. "It just took everything off the top floor. There's no roof now. I don't know exactly what we're going to do."

He and others were taken to an LDS church near their apartment building. He says their minds were racing too fast to try to sleep.

Firefighters spent hours putting the fire out. Every time they got one section of the building soaked, another lit up. Witness Sam Price said, "I can see the flames shooting up over the rooftop."

Eventually, though, the fire was extinguished, but it took a lot with it.

Melissa Wentz said, "I'm just completely in shock. My mind is blank. I'm shaky. I've lost everything I own. I don't know what I'm going to do."

Investigators say the fire was an accident and they do not intend to file charges.

Although the flames were contained to the sixth floor, attic and roof, the entire building has been condemned due to smoke and water damage.

Earlier this morning, Freitag said, "We know that there's been heavy smoke from the third floor up. But mostly likely with the amount of water put on this building, none of it will be inhabitable."

The temporary shelter set up by the Red Cross at 454 S. 1100 East will remain open for a second night. A UTA bus provided shelter for the evacuees during the fire. The Red Cross served breakfast to the residents and firefighters.

Fourteen people have been provided temporary shelter through the Red Cross, with the remainder staying with family or friends.

Incline Terrace is a six-story complex with 39 units.

Residents were allowed to retrieve personal effects and medications but won't be able to enter the building to retrieve other belongings until the upper floors are declared safe for entry. That could take several days.

The building will need to be extensively remodeled before residents can move back in. That could take several months to complete.

The Red Cross says landlords may call the Greater Salt Lake Area Chapter, Logan Sisam of Emergency Services, at 801-323-7002 if they have comparable available rental properties in this area.

The local chapter says it is accepting financial donations to help fund this disaster relief effort. Those wishing to donate can call 801-323-7000 during regular business hours this week or visit the Red Cross of Utah Web site.

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com


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Alex Cabrero


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