Apartment fire displaces 40

By Mark Baker | Fires | |

No serious injuries resulted from the blaze that damaged a residential building near the UO campus

A three-alarm fire that began just before 4 p.m. Saturday on the second floor of an apartment complex on East 14th Avenue near the University of Oregon campus left about 40 residents, mostly students, displaced overnight and maybe longer.

At least one resident was temporarily trapped on her balcony as firefighters arrived. Other residents said they crawled to safety through hallways filled with black smoke.

The residents were huddled in an alley behind the complex at 735 E. 14th Ave., between Alder and Hilyard streets, some wrapped in blankets in the cold, as American Red Cross responders came to provide help about 5 p.m.

The cause of the fire was still unknown but appeared to be accidental, Battalion Fire Chief Matt Ennis said at the scene. No damage estimate was immediately available.

Rachel St. Pierre, 18, a Lane Community College student who was standing in the alley with other residents, a brown blanket wrapped around her in the below-40 weather, said she was watching television in her third-floor studio when she heard a fire alarm go off.

“And I didn’t think much of it, ’cause they’re kind of touchy,” she said of the building’s alarms. “Then I saw the smoke coming through my door.”

St. Pierre opened the door and “everything was pitch-black” with smoke, she said. She got on her hands and knees and “just crawled as fast as I could. It was not pleasant, definitely.”

The fire caused significant damage to two units and extensive heat and smoke damage to all second-floor units and smoke damage to several third-floor units, according to the Eugene Fire Department. All residents got out of the building with no reported injuries, but a firefighter sustained a minor injury from falling glass, the department said in a statement.

University of Oregon student Patrick Murphy, 22, lives across the street. He captured footage of the blaze coming from the building’s second floor along an alley off East 14th on his smartphone.

“I came out to see what the noise was. I thought maybe people were mad about the game,” he said, referring to the UO football team’s unexpected, lopsided loss to the University of Arizona in Tucson, which had just ended on TV.

“I saw a little smoke,” Murphy said. “Then it just kind of burst into flames. They got up there quick trying to put that out,” he said of firefighters.

Ennis told residents and property manager Larry von Klein, gathered in the back alley by the Excelsior restaurant, that the building sustained “extensive damage” and that the power would be turned off all night.

“Power’s off; doors are all kicked in,” he said.

When firefighters arrived, a young woman was trapped on her third-floor balcony but was somehow able to get herself down before needing rescue, Ennis said.

The fire started in a studio about three studios in from 14th Avenue on the second floor, he said, and then quickly spread to the third floor. Some residents were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene, he said.

Von Klein was helping residents coordinate places to stay through the Red Cross.

“Some have places (to stay),” he said. “And we’ll find places for others.”