Grill Ashes Spark Wisconsin Blaze


Residents of the Fitchburg Springs apartment complex spent Sunday going through what was left of their apartments trying to salvage anything they could.

Kelly Swope and her mother Patty lived on the building's second floor. They told WISC-TV they lost everything in the fire.

"This is first time we've been able to get in so the fire chief OK'd it today and as you can see, it's destroyed," said Swope. "But the main thing is we all got out OK and my pets got out."

Investigators said the blaze, which destroyed 15 of the building's 26 units, started from an improperly stored charcoal grill.

Firefighters said that a 14-year-old's decision to place a used charcoal grille in a storage shed without properly extinguishing the coals led the Friday night apartment fire in Fitchburg that displaced 40 people and caused $3 million in damages.

The fire ripped through the Fitchburg Springs apartment complex at 3321 Leopold Way around 11:30 p.m. on Friday.

Residents of a neighboring apartment building who were returning home from a fireworks show heard an explosion and saw flames on the balcony of a second floor apartment. Nancy Angsten, who lives across the street, said, "I couldn't relax. I know I wasn't alone but I couldn't relax. I was just worried that the embers would fly and start another building, but they worked hard the firemen and all, they did their job."

One resident called 911 while another ran into the building to pull the alarm and began alerting residents of the fire.

Firefighters arrived within eight minutes to find a large volume of fire engulfing the balcony and extending into the roof structure. Because of the magnitude of the blaze, additional units were called in.

The design of the roof and the rapid spread of fire through it hammered firefighters' efforts to extinguish the blaze.

Units from the town of Madison, Verona, Oregon, Shorewood Hills, and Monona fire departments responded to assist with firefighting operations.

Damages have been estimated at $3,264,000, according to the Fitchburg Fire Department. Investigators report that no one was injured.

But investigators said the damage could have been much worse. They credit the building's fire stops and sprinkler system and said this is a lesson for everyone.

"All the apartment complexes they work with their residents to say, 'If you're going to grill make sure that you're grilling at a safe distance away from the building and then make sure that the grill stays out whether it's overnight or the next day," said Fitchburg Fire Chief Randy Pickering.

The owners of the complex are making arrangements to have impacted residents stay at the Candlewood Suites for the next few days.

Fire officials told WISC-TV that owner Gary Gorman is helping 25 residents relocate to other units in the apartment complex.

The other half will get their services turned back on and should be able to move back in.

Officials said that virtually no one displaced by the fire carried renter's insurance. Anyone wanting to help can send donations to the Badger Chapter of the American Red Cross, 4860 Sheboygan Ave., Madison, Wis. 53705.

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