A three-alarm fire caused heavy damage to a Hazel Dell apartment complex before dawn Sunday, as residents rushed to evacuate and alert their neighbors of the danger.
At least one person sustained injuries that were not life-threatening from the fire, which broke out in the Bridge Creek Apartment Homes, 9211 N.E. 15th Ave., a multistory complex east of Northeast Highway 99.
The fire was reported at 5:12 a.m. in Building M, a three-story block containing 18 apartments. The first firefighters arrived early Sunday morning to find a large fire. They used a ladder to rescue a woman who was trapped on a third-floor balcony, and called for a second alarm. The fire finally grew to a third alarm, making it the biggest fire in Hazel Dell since the Rolling Creek Apartments fire in April 2011.
All people and pets were safely evacuated from the burning apartments and it took crews about two hours to extinguish the flames, said Sarah Mitchelson, a spokeswoman for Clark County Fire District 6. One resident suffered blisters and burns to his back and took a private vehicle to an urgent care clinic, she said.
The fire appeared to start in a corner unit on the third floor, Mitchelson said. The fire left the entire third floor charred, and the building’s roof had collapsed in some spots. All of the building’s apartments will be uninhabitable until major repairs are made.
Mitchelson also said residents played a big role in making sure their neighbors evacuated the building quickly. People were knocking on doors, saying, “It’s time to get out. There’s a fire,” she said. “They were very efficient about it.”
Tiffany Alziebler, 28, a third-floor resident of Building M, said she woke up Sunday morning to the sounds of “a bunch of banging and yelling.” Her boyfriend opened the back sliding-glass door to the apartment, and a boy standing on the ground below told him to evacuate.
“There were some flames on the porch,” Alziebler said. “I said, ‘Yeah, we have to get out now.’ … I got out with my cat, my purse, my boyfriend — that’s it.”
Alziebler sat in the apartment complex’s community center, trying to calm her cat, Dude, who was wrapped in a Red Cross blanket. She said she planned to stay at her aunt’s house for a while, but she had to wait until fire crews moved their trucks, which were blocking her vehicle in the parking lot.
Mitchelson estimated about 70 Bridge Creek residents were displaced by the fire. The American Red Cross was on the scene to assist displaced residents. The organization offered breakfast to the victims, and a C-Tran bus was brought so they could have a warm place to wait.
A bus also was available to transport residents to a nearby shelter at a church, though most residents made plans to stay with someone they knew, according to the Red Cross.
Several of the displaced residents waited Sunday morning in the community center, located right next to Building M. Others stood outside in the drizzling rain and watched firefighters crawl in and out of their homes, spraying water on potential hot spots.
Michael Glover, 23, had to evacuate a first-floor apartment in Building M on Sunday morning, but he said he’s just happy nobody was badly hurt. He also praised his neighbors for acting quickly.
“They did a good job alerting people,” Glover said, adding that he and his cousin had time to grab the two girls living with them, ages 3 and 11-months, and get outside. Fire didn’t spread to his apartment, but the unit’s roof caved in as fire crews doused the building with water.
“Our stuff is gone, but everybody is alive,” Glover said. “God is good.”
Carra Peterson, 79, waited in the community center Sunday morning for her son to pick her up. She moved to the complex eight months ago from Las Vegas, and said she’s enjoyed the apartment and her neighbors.
“It’s been nice, and this had to happen,” she said. “Guess I was having too much fun,” she joked.
The Vancouver Fire Department assisted Fire District 6, and AMR and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office also helped on the scene. Mitchelson said firefighters salvaged some first-floor residents’ furniture and other possessions, including photos and electronics, by gathering the items and throwing tarps over them as they worked to drench the building.
The Clark County Fire Marshal is investigating the cause of the fire.
Columbian Metro Editor Craig Brown contributed to this report.