Eighteen adults and three children were displaced after a 5th alarm fire tore through four apartment buildings in the Longacre Ponds complex on Northbrook Circle in Fairview Heights on Thursday afternoon.
According to Fairview Heights Fire Chief Bryan Doyle, a police officer on patrol noticed smoke coming from the building shortly before 2 p.m. and notified firefighters. He said no one was in any of the buildings at the time the fire broke out. Pets from a few of the apartments were rescued.
Doyle said the fire likely started somewhere in building 73, the southernmost building in a string of four buildings connected by stairwells. The fire then made its way to the attic area and, at 2:40 p.m., suddenly intensified after a flashover engulfed more of the attic and roof area in flames. Fire trucks near the buildings blew their horns in a sustained blast, a signal to any firefighters who may have been inside that they needed to get out immediately because a flashover had occurred.
Doyle said individual apartments’ smoke detectors were working and that the buildings’ sprinkler system also activated. However, Doyle said the sprinkler system is designed to alert the fire department if the sprinklers activate, something he said never happened.
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Doyle said one firefighter was transported to the hospital for heat-related symptoms but no one else was injured. Red Cross disaster representatives tended to firefighters and the residents of buildings 73, 71, 69 and 67.
Northwest Fire District Assistant Chief Chester Borkowski said each of the four buildings were severely damaged, if not by fire then by the deluge of water firefighters poured on to fight it. He said that at one time, three aerial units were deployed, each capable of pouring 1,000 gallons a minute on the blaze “on the low end.”
U. S. Air Force Second Lieutenant Matthew Shinn, who is stationed at Scott Air Force Base, watched as firefighters sprayed water onto the roof near his third floor apartment on the east side of building 71. He saw the bicycle he hasn’t ridden in two years on the balcony and guessed that it was “probably the only thing that hasn’t burned.”
The Texas native who works as a weather officer said he hoped the fire hadn’t claimed his Texas A&M diploma or his grandfather’s WWII medals hanging on his bedroom wall.
“Wow,” Shinn said. “My whole life’s up there and now its gone.”
In all, firefighters from French Village, Swansea, O’Fallon, Collinsville and Northwest assisted Fairview Heights firefighters. A firefighter rehab vehicle from St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia also was deployed.
Doyle said the State Fire Marshal’s office would assist in the investigation into the cause of the fire. The Red Cross was providing assistance to residents displaced by the fire, though it’s not clear exactly how many people were affected.