Flames Travel Horizontally During 4-Hour Nebraska Fire

OMAHA, Neb. --

A 40-year-old apartment building in Council Bluffs that caught fire Tuesday had a double-roof, allowing flames to travel horizontally between walls and complicating firefighters' efforts to stop them.

After nearly four hours, the flames that crawled over the Greenbriar apartments at 1400 Franklin Ave. were contained, but the damage was widespread. Dozens of tenants were left homeless, their former homes left charred, layered with smoke and soaked with water.

The flames damaged 16 of 32 units. It wasn't the birthday surprise Linda Janca was expecting.

"It's surreal. I can't believe it," Janca said.

Janca got home Tuesday to her smoke detectors sounding. But there were no flames or smoke. A few minutes later, she saw the smoke, and the smoke quickly became flames.

Doris Jensen came home to find the fire at its peak.

"I don't know what to say about it except I'm wondering where I'm going to sleep tonight," Jensen said.

Whether they sleep Tuesday night or not, they'll survive, and that's what mattered to Joan Thrush.

"Thankfully, everyone is safe and they're just things -- we can replace things. We're all OK," Thrush said.

Residents said a maintenance worker took a torch to a pipe on the second floor, inadvertently igniting the flames. But the Council Bluffs Fire Chief said he has no record of any workers being in the building.

The fire's cause is still under investigation.

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