IOWA CITY — Babies and toddlers were just getting up from their naps at Cadence Academy Preschool in downtown Iowa City when a fire broke out at an adjacent construction site Tuesday afternoon.
Staff at the child care center, 325 S. Dubuque St., rushed to evacuate the children as the wind blew flames toward the center, housed on the ground flood of the Capitol Street parking ramp.
Construction workers and firefighters helped bundle the children and escort them across Dubuque Street to the community room of the Capitol House Apartments, said Tony Fischer, an Iowa City parent who has two daughters, ages 1 and 2, at Cadence Academy.
“It happened so quickly, a lot were wearing jackets that weren’t theirs or maybe they didn’t have hats or gloves,” Fischer said of the children.
When he was later allowed to go into the center to get his children’s car seats to take them home, he saw bottles of milk that had been warmed but not served and cots still out.
“The staff responded really quickly,” he said. “I think it was a challenge for them as well because they didn’t have their computer system available to notify parents right away.”
Cadence Academy staff called parents on their personal cellphones to tell them about the evacuation, and when Fischer arrived to pick up his daughters, it looked as if extra staff had come in to help, he said.
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Dubuque Street was filled with cinders and ashes from the fire that started around 2:30 p.m. and wasn’t contained until after 4 p.m.
Smoldering blocks of wood that fell from the blaze at a multimillion-dollar development project, Hieronymus Square, burned holes in the roof of the Capitol House Apartments, an eight-story complex, and ignited a garbage bin fire there, said S.J. Starr, property manager of the complex that caters to low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
That smaller fire caused the few Cadence Academy children still at the center at 5 p.m. to move back to their building, Starr said.
“The staff at the academy did a fantastic job with those kids,” she said. “They were constantly counting heads and the kids didn’t seem upset or anything.”
Cadence Academy, which provides care for children ages six weeks to five years, reopened Wednesday morning, but staff were busy washing bedding and cleaning up, Fischer said.
The preschool director referred The Gazette to a regional manager in Des Moines. A call to that manager was not immediately returned Wednesday morning.
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