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Fire guts Michigan City apartments

December 5, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY – When Michigan City Police officers arrived at a fire near 10th Street and Michigan Boulevard early Monday, the smoke was so thick they couldn’t tell which building was burning.

The wind didn’t help either, blowing smoke around and fanning the flames, which eventually gutted the building, according to the Michigan City Fire Department.

Two people were injured and four officers were treated for smoke inhalation. Those officers were first on the scene.

“Upon arrival, we observed smoke coming from a building, however due to the amount of smoke we could not determine which building the smoke was coming from,” one officer said in the police report.

“The smoke was so thick as we walked around the building, we couldn’t see in front of us and our flashlights were useless,” another officer said in the report. They walked around the building and saw the second floor of 720 E. 10th St. “completely engulfed in flames.”

Officers tried to get closer to determine if anyone was still inside, but “for officer safety we decided we should not enter the residence as debris was falling all around us. At this point, the smoke outside the building was beginning to completely surround us. ... we decided to step away from the residence until the fire department arrived.”

Minutes later, firefighters arrived after receiving multiple 911 calls around 12:40 a.m., according to MCFD spokesman Tony Drzewiecki.

Multiple units were on the scene in minutes and found “heavy smoke and flames visible from the second floor and first-floor back apartments,” he said.

The building had four apartments and firefighters confirmed “all residents were out of the structure and responding engine companies started fire suppression tactics quickly,” Drzewiecki said.

But strong winds hampered early firefighting efforts, he said, and helped the fire “spread very quickly.”

Police said the first person they saw was a man standing near the building.

“We could barely see the subject due to the smoke, however large flames were shooting from the building near him. ... he said he believed he had family inside the building ... I advised him we were going to attempt to make entry but couldn’t use this entrance due to the large amounts of smoke and flames coming out of it.

“As we walked towards the road, parts of the roof that were on fire began falling around us and ... a large piece of the building struck the ground directly behind me,” one officer said in the report.

They went to the front of the building but could not enter there either because of heavy smoke coming from that entrance.

They saw a man and woman in front of the home and told them they had to leave. The woman could not walk so officers carried her across the street, the report said.

The woman was taken to Franciscan Health Michigan City with injuries “believed to be from a fall when evacuating the structure from the second floor,” Drzewiecki said. Police said she suffered a possible pelvic fracture and several fractured vertebrae.

Another man suffered a lung contusion, according to police.

Administrator Andrew McGuire said La Porte County EMS was originally told there were five people injured, but once they arrived on scene, only two were transported.

The officers were also treated at Franciscan for smoke inhalation.

“All four of us were having difficultly breathing due to the heavy smoke and being close to the flames,” an officer said in the report. “We were advised we needed to go to the hospital for medical evaluation. We were all cleared after a breathing treatment and oxygen.”

The fire was brought under control about 2:24 a.m., Drzewiecki said. After suppression efforts were complete, “the building was partially demolished due to the possible collapse of the back of the building.”

On Tuesday, he said the cause remains under investigation by Fire Marshal Kyle Kazmierczak, though the on-site investigation is complete. “The investigation will be conducted with the residents and the holdup is we have one of the residents presently in the hospital at South Bend.”

According to police, Kazmierczak said the nature of the fire is undetermined but it “started under suspicious circumstances.”

The building, totally destroyed by the fire, is scheduled for demolition on Wednesday, according to Drzewiecki. “The concern is for the safety of residents in the area.”

The American Red Cross will be assisting residents who were displaced, he said.

Smoke detectors were present and working in all of the apartments, and alerted residents to the smoke and fire, he said.

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