Caitlin McElroy covered her toddler daughter’s face Tuesday afternoon as she rushed through a smoke-filled hallway to safety.
“I honestly thought someone was having a cookout,” she said, watching as firefighters doused her home at the Pinecrest Apartments on Middle Ridge Road.
When she first saw the drifting white plumes outside, McElroy went about her business. Then she heard people yelling and opened her door.
“When I opened it, a huge cloud of smoke came in. I slammed the door shut and went back to the balcony,” she said. “They yelled at me to get out as fast as possible so I grabbed my daughter and went downstairs through the smoke.”
Firefighters from Amherst, South Amherst, Vermilion, and Elyria Township battled to keep the blaze from spreading throughout the apartment complex.
Residents escaped serious injury, although one firefighter was taken to the hospital for heat exposure and some pets may have remained trapped in the building.
Amherst fire chief Greg Knoll said engines arrived at 2:42 p.m. and it took about 40 minutes to quell the flames, which had started in a mid-level unit. The cause could not immediately be pinpointed.
Those huddled outside said someone had fallen asleep with a candle lit and needed to jump out a window to escape. Knoll could not say whether that was accurate.
“When I got here he was standing in the front, so that I don’t know,” he said. “There was one woman who Amherst police helped out who needed a walker. She was making her way out but the police just helped her get out quicker.”
Cory Holzhauer said had just returned home to prepare for a loved one’s funeral. He managed to enter the building and save his cat, which he said was having breathing trouble after exposure to the smoke.
“I just pulled in and saw everything happening,” he said. “I wasn’t here when it started or aware of it. I started flipping out.” Holzhauer said he put the cat in his car with the air conditioning on to try to make it more comfortable.
While actual fire damage was limited to two apartments, smoke and water damage are likely to affect the entire building. A dividing wall most likely helped to limit the scope of the fire, according to Knoll.
“The majority of the fire damage was limited to the two front apartments,” he said. “The smoke and water damage was obviously spread out to other units. Many units in the back of the building weren’t damaged but we did dump a lot of water in the attic, so there could be some water damage eventually.”
According to the Lorain County auditor’s office, the property is valued at $1.15 million. Knoll said he did not believe the damage was extensive enough to tear the building down.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Photos by Jonathan Delozier | Amherst News-Times Firefighters took about 40 minutes to extinguish a large blaze Tuesday at Pinecrest Apartments on Middle Ridge Road in Amherst.