Police believe someone intentionally set an early-morning fire at a Cedar Rapids apartment complex that caused emergency evacuations, including an infant being thrown from a window to a man on the ground and a woman breaking her leg in a fall.
“Based on the evidence collected at the scene, the fire has been determined to be intentional and it originated in the hallway,” Cedar Rapids Public Safety Spokesman Greg Buelow said.
The fire at Northview Apartments, 126 Harbet Ave. NW, was reported around 3:40 a.m. Thursday. When fire crews arrived, they found heavy smoke and flames and some people hanging from the windows, according to a news release. Firefighters used ladders to rescue the occupants and knocked down the fire. A ventilation hole was cut in the roof to release heat and smoke.
Police believe the fire started in the hallway of the three-level, six-unit complex. Smoke alarms activated and gave several of the occupants an early warning, according to the news release.
Thirteen people lived in the building, with five units occupied, Buelow said. Eight were transported to area hospitals with injuries, mostly smoke inhalation. One woman who fell likely had a broken leg, Buelow said, and an infant had to be tossed from a window down to a man waiting on the ground. The infant suffered smoke inhalation, but was otherwise not hurt.
“It was dramatic,” said Patricia Ballard, 74, who lives next door to the complex. She was awoken early Thursday by screams from the apartments and rose moments later when a half-dozen fire trucks and other emergency vehicles arrived on the street.
“I got up and got dressed,” she said. “I knew I was safe, but I was hoping it would not spread.”
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Because it’s an ongoing investigation, Buelow would not say why investigators believe the fire was intentionally set, including whether they found accelerant, such as gasoline, in the hallway. He could not say whether the building’s external doors are open or if residents must use a key or code to enter.
Police are looking for nearby surveillance video that might provide evidence of what happened, he said.
The complex, built in 1975, sustained severe damage.
Anyone with information about this fire is encouraged to contact the Cedar Rapids Fire Department at (319) 286-5200. Citizens may also contact Linn County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-CS-CRIME (272-7463).