ELKHART — The fire sent two people to the hospital this morning, Oct. 2, likely had a suspicious cause.
Elkhart Fire Investigator Rob Smith said firefighters found a gas can while cleaning out the rear apartment on the first floor.
Smith said they also collected a partly burned backpack with a pellet gun inside. Firefighters called the Elkhart Police Department to investigate.
He said that according to witnesses a man and two women were arguing prior to the fire, and that they saw a man leave the scene, dropping a backpack behind a nearby dumpster.
Steve Pletcher, who owns the building, said, “I’m having a sneaking suspicion somebody was cooking meth in there,” he said.
Two people were taken to the hospital from a building fire at 313 Union Street this morning, Oct. 2.
Others escaped the building with Hart City Laundromat and five apartments. Elkhart firefighters rescued some residents from the second floor with ladders, according to Battalion Chief Scott Chris. The fire was called in at 6:45 a.m.
One person was taken to the hospital with burns to the legs. That person may have been flown to another hospital, he said.
Another person was taken to Elkhart General Hospital for smoke inhalation.
Annette Harris said she woke up in her upstairs apartment when she heard yelling. She looked out her window and saw flames coming out of the downstairs apartment in the rear of the building.
“They came and rescued me,” she said of firefighters. Her cat got out too, she said. They got her out of her second-floor window.
Donna Garber had moved to the apartment with her husband, Terry, a months ago. He had gone to work. “I woke up and heard somebody screaming,” she said. She got out of the building.
After firefighters had put the fire out, the Garbers stared at what had been their apartment, on the verge of tears. The fire, which started in the apartment beneath theirs, severely damaged theirs.
“All of it’s gone,” he said. “Just got it all set up.”
Lerone “Kevin” Washington lived in one of the upstairs apartments as well. He said he heard two people arguing and then heard a girl yelling for help. “I just saw the fire shooting out the downstairs apartment,” he said.
Pletcher, who has owned the building 11 years, was at the scene surveying the damage.
Based on what he observed inside the downstairs apartment and from talking to those there when the fire started, he doesn’t believe it was an electrical fire or that the building caused the fire.
He said the building was insured, but he’ll have to pay a $3,000 deductible. “It sucks,” he said. “I hope they figure out exactly what happened.”
Smith was interviewing people at the scene this morning. The fire is under investigation.
Chief Chris said the fire call came during shift change, so extra firefighters helped at the scene. “We had the major fire knocked down within 10 minutes,” he said.
Traffic was blocked around the area of Marion and Franklin streets, but the streets are open again.