Metro-East News

O’Fallon residents lose homes in apartment building fire

O’Fallon resident Rose Root cries as she talks about the items in her apartment that may have been damaged or destroyed in a Friday morning fire.
O’Fallon resident Rose Root cries as she talks about the items in her apartment that may have been damaged or destroyed in a Friday morning fire. News-Democrat

Fire destroyed an apartment building Friday in O’Fallon.

But emergency workers said no one was injured.

Smoke started to billow at about 8:45 a.m. from the two-story apartment building near the corner of Lincoln Avenue and West Third Street. Neighbors and passersbys rushed into the building, which is near O’Fallon City Hall, to rush residents out of their apartments.

Dave Sobol said he was in his unit when he heard a frantic knock at the door.

“I heard them banging so I opened my door to see what was going on, and the smoke just poured in,” Sobol said.

With smoke from the floor to the ceiling in the hallway, Sobol said he had to crawl out of the building to escape, leaving all his personal belongings behind, including his treasured baseball card collection.

Flames went through the roof, and in a matter of minutes, it collapsed.

Firefighters seemed to have the fire doused when suddenly flames could be seen through a first floor window. Firefighters smashed the glass and broke down a nearby door so they could get inside and put them out.

O’Fallon Public Works Department employee Bob Karras said he and another city worker were patching potholes nearby when they saw the smoke and went to help get people out of the building.

Karras said they knocked on a door and a young man dressed only in boxer shorts answered.

“He was scared and didn’t want to come out of the building,” Karras said. “He ran back in and closed the door. But we were able to get him to come out.”

As the man sat on the sidewalk in just his boxers, Karras’ work partner, Matt Ebert, went home and got some of his own clothes for the fire victim to wear.

Fire Chief Brent Saunders said everyone who was in the apartment building got out safely. He said the fire appears to have started in a second-floor apartment, though the cause wasn’t immediately known.

Rose Root, a resident of the apartment building, said she was working down the street at a daycare when she heard about the fire. She ran home to see what was happening.

“I’ve got a lot of stuff in crates in there, stuff that can’t be replaced. My dad died in August, and I’ve got a lot of his stuff in there,” Root said. “But it’s all material stuff. Fortunately, my 6-year-old son and I weren’t there when it happened, and we’re safe.”

Root said police told her the fire may have started from a space heater. The resident using the space heater awoke and saw flames crawling up a wall, Root said.

Firefighters managed to prevent the fire from spreading to a dry-cleaner business, situated just a few feet from the apartment building.

Saunders said when firefighters arrived, flames were shooting from the apartment building toward the dry-cleaner business. Firefighters swarmed onto the roof of the one story dry cleaning business to fight back the fire.

After they got inside the house, a call went over the radio for firefighters to exit because the second floor was beginning to collapse. But Saunders said no firefighters were hurt battling the blaze.

For a while, smoke was visible at least 5 miles away. Lincoln Avenue was temporarily blocked off, from City Hall past Fourth Street.

Mutual aid was requested from Fairview, Lebanon, Troy and Scott Air Force Base fire departments.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at or 618-239-2626. Follow him on Twitter: @scottwuerzBND.