Friday, June 30, 2006

Fire destroys Hailey apartment building

Crews respond to two blazes; investigation continues


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

The Valley View Apartments on Second Avenue in Hailey suffered two fires inside of 10 hours on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The building's roof collapsed in the morning fire, displacing all of the building's eight families. Express photo by Gavin McNeil Photo by David N. Seelig

Approximately 20 people are homeless after a fire of unknown origin in a Hailey apartment complex burned the roof off their building.

Three people were slightly injured in a fire Tuesday night, which was initially contained to a bedroom in one of the apartments. But another, possibly related, fire flared again Wednesday morning, destroying the roof and leaving eight families without permanent shelter.

The Hailey Fire Department was dispatched at 9:04 p.m., Tuesday, June 27, to Building A at Valley View Apartments on Second Avenue North, just north of Myrtle Street.

"It was designated a structure fire so Wood River Fire and Rescue automatically responds with an ambulance and aerial ladder truck," Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman said Wednesday. Bellevue and Ketchum fire departments provided mutual aid.

Chapman didn't immediately have a count of personnel or trucks on scene, but he said firefighters spent about an hour containing the blaze, and another hour investigating it.

Initially, the fire was contained to a bedroom on the second floor, but the fire "smoked out the unit," Chapman said.

Melinda Piña, a resident of another building in the complex, was preparing for an early night.

"They just came in our house and said, 'Get out! Get out!'" she said Tuesday as she stood outside the buildings. "I had my phone in my hand. I was barefoot and cleaning the bathroom. I thought, 'I'm going to bed early tonight.'"

Orland Badley was in the neighborhood when he saw flames coming from the building.

He grabbed a ladder off his truck and began to fight the fire.

"The window was open," he said. "I just had to pull the screen out. I got down real low with the fire extinguisher."

"Thank God no one was in there," he added. "I was worried because there were a couple of girls outside freaking out."

Fire officials cleared the scene around midnight, Chapman said. Fire Department volunteers conducted "routine pass-bys" during the night.

At approximately 5:46 a.m. Wednesday, a volunteer spotted light smoke coming from the apartment. When the Fire Department arrived, firefighters saw a small fire in an electrical box.

"Within three to six minutes, it had traveled up to the roof," Chapman said. Very quickly, flames spread over the roof and destroyed it.

The roof and its debris dropped into the eight units, which were already damaged from smoke and water.

Some of their contents, however, may be salvageable, Chapman said.

No injuries were reported in Wednesday's fire; one person was treated at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center for treatment of smoke inhalation.

Two other people who fought the blaze with fire extinguishers were treated on scene.

Red Cross of Greater Idaho volunteers arrived shortly after the Wednesday morning fire broke out, said public affairs liaison Chantal Westerman, herself a volunteer.

"This was a very hard night and a very, very rough morning for these families," she said.

The Red Cross has secured shelter until Wednesday for the eight families, including several small children, she said.

"It's so hard to see it, to see kids wide-eyed and stunned that everything is gone," she said.

Two cats lived in the building but came out unscathed, she said.

In light of major and widespread disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, a few people asked Westerman why they were assisting with a local fire.

"The Red Cross isn't selective about where we go," she said. "We go where service is needed, particularly in our home community."

Investigators were at the complex Wednesday, sifting through evidence in an attempt to determine the fires' causes.

"We're looking to see (if and how) it's related," Chapman said. "It's most likely a rekindling—a small fire that went undetected."

After the initial blaze, firefighters combed the scene with three thermal-imaging cameras that can see hot spots or embers through walls.

"Those are a new addition to our arsenal," Chapman said. "They work well ... But we don't know what happened yet."

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

"We're investigating all theories and conjectures," the chief said. "We have no reason to believe fireworks were involved at this time."

"It will probably be several days before we have a preliminary cause of fire, and several weeks to months before we have a full report," he added. "It's certainly unfortunate for everyone involved."

People who want to help financially can go to the Red Cross Web site at www.redcrossidaho.org or they can call Hailey City Hall at 788-4221.

Donations to the Red Cross of Greater Idaho stay in Idaho, Westerman said.

"I am constantly amazed at the generosity of people, no matter how big or how small the disaster," she said. "They step up to the plate and say, 'What can I do to help?'"

To offer assistance, log on to Red Cross of Greater Idaho's Web site at www.redcrossidaho.org or call Hailey City Hall, 788-4221.




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