10 homeless after fire


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A fire in an Iowa City apartment building on Thursday left 10 residents, including some UI students, without a home.

Iowa City firefighters said the structure, located at 515 E. College St., is probably destroyed. No injuries have been reported, and all residents were evacuated from the building.

The cause of the fire is still unknown.

UI student Olga Mironova, a tenant in the building, said she discovered the fire at roughly 4:30 p.m.
Mironova returned home around 4 p.m. and said she smelled smoke almost immediately.

She dismissed the smell as a tenant smoking in the building, then became uneasy and began to check her apartment unit. She found smoke rising from the basement and checked with a tenant upstairs, who called 911.

Firefighters responded roughly five minutes later, Mironova said.

“I grabbed my passport and left as soon as I could,” the native of Russia said as she gazed at the blaze. “It’s surreal to know that everything is gone so fast.”

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Tenant and UI student Alex Hinders was sleeping, but the smoke and the blaring sirens awakened him. He was surprised at the chaos awaiting him outside the building, he said.

“It took awhile to register that my place was literally on fire,” he said. “I still can’t believe it.”

Hinders and Mironova joined the thickening mass of observers who gathered on the adjacent street to watch eight fire engines combat the flames.

Firefighters worked for more than four hours to beat back the flames as the Sun began to set and temperatures plummeted.

Iowa City police officers closed access to the entire 500 block of College Street — including evacuating the Community Mental Health Center for Mid-Eastern Iowa, 507 E. College St. — as water from the hoses gushed down the sidewalk.

The apartments received nine citations last month during an inspection by the Department of Housing and Inspection Services, records show.

Violations cited in the report indicate a missing smoke alarm in the living room and a fire extinguisher that needed to be mounted on the wall. A reinspection was scheduled for Feb. 24.

The complex was originally a house before it was modified to accommodate seven apartment units.
Landlord Jo Ellen Roffman of Iowa City rental service J&J Real Estate declined to comment.

Officials from the American Red Cross gathered the homeless tenants and gave them vouchers to use for shelter.

For now, the residents are left to wait and generate hope for the future.

“I was very lucky to have awakened when I did,” Hinders said. “Who knows what could have happened if I had waited any longer.”

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