Fire scorches John Street apartment building

Firefighters from Urbana and Champaign battled a fire at a three-story apartment building near the intersection of John Street and Locust Avenue for several hours Monday before it was extinguished.

A call was placed to 911 at 11:43 a.m., and the Urbana and Champaign fire departments arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, said Dena Schumacher, Champaign Fire Department’s public information officer.

Approximately six people were living in the building at the time. All the residents were reportedly evacuated, and Barr Real Estate, the real estate agent for the building, worked with the University and emergency dean to ensure that everyone was accounted for and safe.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, and the next update is expected to be Tuesday morning.

According to the Champaign Fire Department, firefighters began with an offensive attack, entering the building and searching for occupants. But intense heat drove the firefighters to a defensive position, and they continued to combat the fire from the outside. This continued for more than two hours. Fire crews were only allowed back in the building around 3:30 p.m.

The building is an older complex and had a second roof built over the original, which made it more difficult to extinguish the fire, Schumacher said.

“You have fire running between those two roofs,” she said. “That’s caused a challenge for the firefighters.”

“When we got here it looked like it’d been burning for a while,” she added.

Schumacher also noted that there was a workman performing maintenance on the building at the time of the fire.

Lamark Ferguson, a recent graduate, lived on the third floor and was also in the building at the time of the fire.

“I just woke up this morning around eleven and my ceiling was filled with smoke,” Ferguson said. “The fire extinguisher was empty, and the smoke detector also did not go off.”

Knowing that, Ferguson started making others aware.

“I went down the hallway, pounding on people’s doors telling them to get out,” he said. “Everyone got out, I made sure of that,” he added.

Ferguson said he was previously aware that the smoke detectors were not working. An inspector recently came to the building and was informed of the problem, Ferguson said.

“His exact words were, ‘Okay, we’ll get around to it,'” Ferguson said. “Obviously, they didn’t get around to it.”

Barr Real Estate reported that they were not aware of the smoke detector complaint and that they typically respond to requests within 24 hours.

“We have hard-wired smoke alarms with a battery backup in each and every apartment,” said Dave Barr, president of Barr Real Estate.

The alarms work unless residents tamper with them, he added.

Additionally, because many of the residents did not have Renter’s Insurance, reparations are not guaranteed.

Barr Real Estate provides Renter’s Insurance at its offices, but most people neglect to get it, Barr said.

“People just choose not to do it for whatever reason,” he said. “This event proves that’s a mistake.”

Gathered residents were distraught over their lost possessions.

“They basically said they were not responsible for any of our stuff,” Ferguson said. “Even though the fire extinguishers were out.”

Barr Real Estate has arranged for the residents to stay at a local Hampton Inn for three days and is working on a long-term solution.

The most important thing is that no one is injured, Barr said.

“That is the most important thing, and everything else will get dealt with,” he added.