Milwaukee Man Critical after High-Rise Fire

MILWAUKEE --

Residents of Prospect Towers are back in their homes Monday evening while a 56-year-old remains in critical condition with second-degree burns all over his body after the east side apartment high-rise burst into flames at about 9:30 a.m.

The three-alarm fire brought more than 70 firefighters to the 23-story building at 1626 N. Prospect Avenue. When they arrived, smoke was pouring out of the windows of an apartment on the 15th floor. Fire crews blocked off streets and staged an area just south of the apartment complex overlooking Lake Michigan.

Even a few minutes after firefighters arrived, the only visible sign on the outside was a flapping window screen and smoke marks on a wall.

"It's very exciting and panicking. So much smoke you don't know what to do," witness Pietro Tarrantino said.

Tarantino was visiting the apartment next door to the fire. He and others tried breaking down the door of the burning apartment, but they couldn't. Luckily, someone showed up with a key.

"He opened up the door, and the chain was still on, which meant someone was inside. He kicked that, but there was so much smoke coming out it was just unbelievable, so he shut the door and said let's wait for the fire people -- firemen to come," Pietro said.

Residents fled for the stairwells once they realized the fire alarm was real.

"Everyone was in their doors and we started to smell smoke," resident Evan Woodington said. "So we went and knocked on everyone's door and made sure they were awake. As we went down the 15th floor we could actually see the firefighters shooting water down the hallway, and there was water dripping everywhere. It was a mess."

Witness Julie Karp was startled by how quickly the smoke built.

"I was surprised. At first I saw a wisp coming out of one window, one room, then all of a sudden it was coming out of both rooms," Karp said.

The injured man had to be rescued by the firefighters and was unconscious when they took him out of the building.

The fire remains under investigation but it apparently started in the kitchen and did not spread beyond that apartment, according to investigators.

The fire did not spread to other units. However, units on the 14th, 15th and 16th floors have smoke and water damage.

There is concern over the evacuation of the high-rise.

Concerns Raised Over Evacuation Of High-Rise

Not everyone rushed out of the burning building. Most told 12 News that they didnt leave the building when they heard the fire alarm because they just assumed it was a drill or a malfunction, which could have been a tragic mistake, had the fire spread beyond that apartment.

Many of the building's 250 residents remained in their apartments until firefighters and fellow residents ran through the halls, pounding on the doors.

Tashia Jambrek, like other residents who spoke to 12 News, said they simply assumed it was a drill or a malfunction with the alarm system.

"There's probably been -- since I've been here -- about three [drills] already," Jambrek said. "So whether they were accidental or something triggered them I'm not sure. But it made me not take it as seriously, just from living in other buildings, too, throughout the years you just don't. You just don't think it's going to happen to you, so I think the fact that somebody actually came and knocked on the door, that really helped, made me look out the window and see how serious it was."

Prospect Towers management said there were two drills in the last two weeks, because they had installed a new elevator system. Still, residents are required to leave the building when the fire alarm goes off.

If anyone is in the area and has photos from the scene, please e-mail them to wisnpictures@wisn.com.

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