Under Construction Billings, Montana Assisted Living Facility Goes Up in Flames

BILLINGS (AP) -- An assisted-living facility under construction on the west end of the city was destroyed by fire Tuesday night. Two townhouses were severely damaged.

Fire Marshal Frank Odermann said it will be quite a while before they can determine what caused the blaze.

A townhouse to the south of the construction site was gutted, and a second townhouse receive extensive damage.

''Once we got on the scene, we had to write off this entire apartment complex,'' said Battalion Chief Budge Parker. ''We wanted to protect (the townhouses) knowing we couldn't save the apartment complex.''

Construction workers on the complex estimate it was about 40 percent complete. Plans called for four wings and 68 units.

The area is the site of a major construction project that also includes a credit union and a dental office.

Residents near the complex described loud explosions. A number of propane tanks in the area exploded.

''I went to the deck and everything was on fire. A fireman came and said to evacuate,'' said Sandy Barnhart.

Edna Hedges said she had just gotten into bed when she thought she heard thunder. She also was evacuated from her home.

Witnesses reported seeing the flames as far east as Laurel.