Apartment building without pull-down alarms catches fire

A Columbia apartment fire forced the evacuation of dozens of people and delayed lunch time traffic on Tuesday morning.

A two-alarm fire forced the evacuation of dozens of people and delayed lunch time traffic on Tuesday morning.

No one was hurt by the fire that damaged the third floor of 103 Stadium Boulevard, an Ash Street Place apartment building.

A 9-1-1 caller reporter smoke in the building and flames visible on the roof. Fire crews arrived on the scene at 11:37 a.m.

The fire, which started because of an electrical malfunction in a bathroom light fixture of apartment 314, went through a unit's ceiling into the attic space that run's the length of the building. The occupants of apartment 314 were not home when the fire started.

Because of the building size and rapidly-spreading fire, the incident commander brought in additional personnel, three more fire trucks and a breathing-air supply truck.

Taylor Hume was sleeping when he heard smoke alarms going off through his building. He grabbed his laptop and his girlfriendâ??s cat Mimi.

â??I got out the door and saw smoke in the hallway," Hume said. "I ran out. Nobody knew how severe it was.â??

Jennifer Varnado was getting ready for work when she grabbed her cat, Puss â??N Boots, and escaped from danger.

"I didnâ??t know what was going on," Varnado said. "None of us knew what was going on until we heard this banging noise.â??

The owners of Ash Street Place Apartments were in violation of Columbiaâ??s fire codes, because there was no manual pull-down stations. People had to knock on each otherâ??s doors to alert each other of the fire.

In November 2012, fire department officials gave the property owners 12 months to install pull-down alarms, which is why no citations or other penalties were issued. Columbia fire administrators are working with the owners of the apartments to install the manual pull-down fire alarms.

Columbia Battalion Chief Brad Fraizer said, â??Time of day is a huge factor in events like this. Early notification for the fire department and occupants is very important. The manual pull stations and early notification systems are very critical.â??

It took firefighters about an hour to get the flames under control. Crews spent another five hours putting out hot spots and trying to salvage and protect the building's contents.

Six apartments and the roof were heavilty damaged by the fire, while many other units had smoke and water damage.

Fire investigators are trying to determine the cause and a damage amount. Residents of the building's 66 units, including those untouched by the fire or smoke damage, must spend Tuesday night (or until investigators give the all-clear) somewhere else.

All renters were required to have renters' insurance, so many are reaching out to their agents for help getting a hotel room. The Red Cross has people at the apartment complex ready to assist, according to Heart of Missouri communications manager Mike Flanagan. A shelter has been opened at Broadway Christian Church until 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Damage is estimated at $450,000. Mills Properties in St. Louis owns the building.