Wis. Crews Battle Downtown Apartment Fire

MADISON, Wis. --

MADISON, Wis. --

Madison fire crews spent hours battling a downtown apartment building fire on Thursday that displaced 27 residents.

The fire at the Capitol Hill Apartments, in the 100 block of North Webster Street, near Capitol Square, began at about 5 a.m., and it took firefighters eight hours to extinguish it.

Residents evacuated the building on their own and called 911. Everyone made it out safely.

"It was a little after 5 (a.m.) and I woke up to a smoke alarm, and I actually thought it was my alarm clock going off," said Shayla Dvorak, a building resident. "We were across the street and we had to keep moving because the smoke was getting worse and worse."

Smoke engulfed the downtown area for much of the morning as about 50 firefighters battled for hours to put out the blaze.

The smoke from the fire spread through downtown streets, and Fire Department officials asked motorists to avoid the area if possible. Nearby buildings were also evacuated due to the heavy smoke.

Madison Fire Department spokeswoman Lori Wirth said the fire quickly went to two alarms as crews worked to protect adjacent buildings. Neighboring buildings sustained smoke damage but were protected from fire and structural damage.

Wirth said flames were still shooting through the building's roof as of 6 a.m., and firefighters had to exit the building for a time because of structural concerns.

"Sometimes people see brick exterior and think, 'Oh, that's not going to burn.' Brick exterior means only on the outside. Interior, all kinds of things can burn, including the supporting structure. That apparently is what's happened," Wirth said.

Much of the fire attack focused on the roof, where fire burned just under a rubber covering. Firefighters trained streams of water from two ladder towers to keep the flames under control.

"What we've got is a real stubborn fire in the attic space and the roof itself. Much of the roof is gone. However, it's all burning and the fire has been under way now for several hours, so what we're looking at is a structurally unsound building," Wirth said.

Water misters were brought in to keep fire crews cooler as they work. The Salvation Army opened a canteen to provide responding personnel with lunch and drinks to stay hydrated.

Wirth said the fire also damaged a restaurant, Underground Kitchen, which is located on the first floor of the building. One of the restaurant partners said it's devastating to see the damage.

"Opening your first restaurant is the hardest thing ever. And so the amount of hours that went into that place, personally, there are spaces in that restaurant that I have spent more time in than anyone else in my entire life," said Jonny Hunter, of Underground Kitchen.

The popular restaurant has been open only eight months, but owners said they hope they can return to the space they extensively renovated after Cafe Montmartre closed.

"My hope would be that we could be in this space because we put such a labor of love into it and just the amount of time and thought process that went into renovating the space was pretty huge or us. So we are really committed to that space. If that doesn't happen, it is our plan to have a restaurant downtown," Hunter said.

The Madison Fire Department said that crews will remain at the scene to water down any remaining hot spots. A crew is expected to be assigned to an overnight fire watch in the event of a rekindle.

The American Red Cross-Badger Chapter was assisting displaced residents. The Red Cross said 24 apartment units were reported as destroyed. The Red Cross said, at this time, it's assisting with emergency food and housing for two residents. Other residents will be staying with family and friends, according to the Red Cross' disaster action team leader at the scene.

As a gesture of downtown kindness, the Concourse Hotel is offering up 24 rooms for eight days; starting Friday, displaced residents will be able to take advantage of that offer.

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