Virginia, Minnesota Fire Department Battles Apartment Blaze

VIRGINIA - A fire ripped through the Phoenix Apartments at 302 Eighth St. S. in Virginia early Sunday morning, leaving seven people homeless and resulting in a total of eight people being treated for smoke or minor injuries, including three Virginia firefighters.

Five persons were trapped and had to be rescued from the second floor of the building by firefighters, said Virginia Assistant Fire Chief Jim Theodore.

"They had to do ladder rescues,'' using ground ladders, he explained.

Unlike the mythical bird for which the building is named that arose out of ashes, the Phoenix Apartments were looking extensively damaged Sunday afternoon, with sky visible through upper windows and major damage visible inside.

Suppression foam and ashes were strewn outside, and yellow barrier tape stretched across openings.

"The roof is completely gone,'' Theodore said.

Damage was estimated at more than $150,000, with $100,000 to the building and the rest to contents. No cause was immediately available, although flames were shooting out of apartments in the back of the building when they pulled up, Theodore said.

Fire investigators will be going through the building, which is routine for a major fire, he added.

All seven residents found places to stay Sunday morning, with immediate needs met by the American Red Cross and Salvation Army in Virginia. Other officials were already looking to longer-term needs.

The blaze was reported at 2:04 a.m. Sunday, when Virginia Engine 1 and four firefighters responded and pulled residents to safety before attacking the fire. Virginia Ladder 1 arrived by 2:28 a.m., and 11 firefighters and several rigs from the Mountain Iron Fire Department arrived then also.

Attempts to ventilate the structure were restricted by multiple layers of roofing on the older building.

The Eveleth Fire Department brought in a rig and ambulance, which transported five residents for smoke inhalation and two firefighters to the Virginia Regional Medical Center for treatment.

Due to the structure's instability, roof and inside crews were pulled back by 3:30 am, and suppressed the blaze from outside, a VFD news release said.

The Gilbert Fire Department was called in later on mutual aid, arriving a little before 4 a.m. Virginia Police also assisted, as did the Virginia Fire Auxiliary. A total of about 30 firefighters from the four departments turned out, with the last Virginia unit leaving by about 12:30 pm.