Wind-fanned flames ripped through the upper floors of a Sandpoint apartment building early Sunday, leaving more than 15 people homeless.
No one was injured, but the building and its furnishings were severely damaged.
“It was breathtaking,” said 21-year-old resident Robert Moore, who escaped wearing only boxer shorts and a T-shirt. Keeping warm in a police car, he watched flames burn the south end of the three-story wooden building.
“I just sat in the car and said, ‘Hey, I’m alive,”’ Moore said.
Fire officials said the 4 a.m. blaze at the Superior Apartments, 302 S. Second, isn’t of suspicious origin, but they couldn’t immediately determine the cause. Damage was estimated at $250,000.
“I would call it a total loss, but I don’t know what the insurance company’s going to do,” said Robert Tyler, an investigator with the Sandpoint Fire Department.
Attempts to reach the owner were unsuccessful Sunday.
Shane Mabrey, a 22-year-old electrician who lived on the second floor, was awakened by the sound of neighbors on the porch shared by the two apartments. They were beating on his back door.
“They couldn’t get out their own (front) door - the fire was too bad,” Mabrey said.
He dialed 911 as his girlfriend, Lori Roberts, ran down the hall to get a fire extinguisher.
“By then, it was too bad, and we couldn’t get back in. We got out the door, and then the smoke detector went off. It’s a good thing they (the neighbors) woke up,” said Mabrey.
Police arrived and began pounding on doors, waking and evacuating residents.
“I thought it was some of my friends being rowdy,” said Moore. He scooped up Hobbes, his 10-month-old kitten, and fled down the smoky corridor.
When fire crews arrived, flames were devouring much of the second floor and spreading quickly into the third story. Firefighters trained hoses on the shattered windows, then went inside to chase the fire through walls and ceilings.
Part of the building was insulated with cellulose insulation, made of processed newsprint.
“It burns like sawdust. It just kind of smolders,” said fire Capt. Dan Blood.
Firefighters ripped down walls and ceilings, then sprayed foam into the spaces.
It was five hours before the fire crews went home, leaving behind a charred structure wrapped in yellow “caution” tape.
Sandpoint’s First Church of God served as an emergency shelter. A thrift store donated clothing, and church members provided coffee and breakfast for the homeless.
“They were badly frightened. But after an hour or two, and some coffee, they loosened up a little,” Pastor Warren Pomeroy said.
All of the displaced residents later were taken in by friends or relatives, Pomeroy said.
Sunday afternoon, fire officials began letting some residents back inside the building to recover belongings.
Some wept when they saw how little was left. Waterlogged insulation and soot covered everything. Upstairs, icicles hung from apartment ceilings as a 25-degree breeze filtered through holes in the metal roof.
“My whole life was in this room,” said Moore, a warehouse worker at Coldwater Creek, a mail-order store.
Moore recovered his two guitars, clothes, photos and kitchen items. He removed an undamaged CD from his soaked boombox, which he left behind.
Down the hall, Mabrey carried out a soot-blackened lava lamp. The fire had destroyed nearly everything in his apartment, including a rented TV and Nintendo game. The fire also had killed his pets: a cat, two turtles and a tank of fish.
Moore’s parents helped him pack his soggy belongings. He’ll move in with them for a while.
His father, Ken Moore, is just grateful his son escaped with his life.
“We figure we’re blessed,” he said.
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