116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Jon Harnish was getting ready for bed in his 11th-floor unit in Geneva Tower on Saturday when the fire alarms went off.
As he went near the window, he could see flames coming from the window of a unit underneath him.
“I looked out that window and knew I needed to gather my things,” said Harnish, 60, who had lost everything in the 2008 floods and lived through an earthquake in California previously.
He gathered his shoes, camera, cellphone and bass guitar and headed out.
Since the fire was on floors nine and above, Harnish said most of the residents were scared but calm as he got to the lobby.
“Everybody has just been helping each other,” he said. “There are a lot of elderly and disabled folks and folks were making sure they had immediate needs met. There are a lot of service animals and they looked calm, too.”
All residents were evacuated as firefighters used high-rise ladders and fire suppression systems to battle the blaze at 310 Fifth Ave. SE.
Cedar Rapids firefighters responded to the fire just after midnight Saturday. The building primarily houses elderly and disabled residents.
Firefighters arrived as heavy smoke and flames were visible from the ninth floor and spreading to higher floors, according to the fire department. Harnish said strong winds pushed flames upward along the exterior of the building.
The firefighting operations were stopped around 3 a.m.
One resident of the senior-housing building was transported to a specialty treatment center for smoke inhalation and possible heat-related injuries, according to a Sunday morning news release.
A number of other residents were taken to hospitals for smoke exposure and other medical issues, the release said. No injuries to firefighters were reported, and multiple area departments helped put out the fire.
The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services team was on scene with its ITC mobile kitchen, providing support to residents and responders with hot chocolate, food and socks.
Linn County Emergency Management also reported it received a call from the American Red Cross around 3 a.m. asking for assistance with moving a shelter trailer downtown for displaced residents.
Veritas Church has become a temporary Red Cross shelter and canceled church services for Sunday.
Investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire.
The building, which has 12 stories above the ground floor, has 60 one-bedroom apartments and 132 efficiency units.
The building has had at least two other fires in the past 20 years, records show. Those fires occurred in 2014 and 2002.
Harnish, who spent hours documenting the fire, hadn’t been able to get back into his apartment as of Sunday night and figured it might not be until Monday or Tuesday until he would be able to get back into his unit and assess damage.
“The wind was really whipping, but I hope that means I got a little lucky,” he said as he shared photos he’d taken at the fire scene.
Zack Kucharski, executive editor, contributed to this report.