Residents lose 'absolutely everything': Niles apartment fire displaces 14. How to help

·3 min read
A child’s toy truck sits outside a heavily damaged apartment building at 411 Fort Street in Niles following a fire early Monday.
A child’s toy truck sits outside a heavily damaged apartment building at 411 Fort Street in Niles following a fire early Monday.

NILES — More than a dozen people have been displaced from their homes after a fire ripped through a four-unit apartment building in Niles on Sunday afternoon.

The City of Niles Fire Department responded to the fire just after 3:30 p.m. Sunday in an apartment building at 411 Fort St., Chief Jim Millin said.

Deb Jorgensen, whose 97-year-old father owns the building, said all residents home at the time of the fire made it out alive, but two dogs died in the fire.

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Jorgensen said one resident went to the hospital for possible smoke inhalation after trying to rescue his dog, but all other residents were uninjured.

The City of Niles Fire Department, with assistance from the Niles Township and Buchanan fire departments, was at the scene for at least three or four hours, Millin said.

The fire began in the lower level toward the front of the building and spread throughout the four units, the fire chief said.

A fire at an apartment building on Fort Street in Niles left 14 people displaced from home.
A fire at an apartment building on Fort Street in Niles left 14 people displaced from home.

His department does not believe the fire was set intentionally, but may have started within a wall and been electrical in nature, according to witness statements.

The chief said he was told only one smoke detector sounded in the apartment building.

Insurance investigators will determine whether the building is considered a total loss, but Jorgensen said the apartments did not appear salvageable.

She was running errands in the area Sunday afternoon when she first saw the fire. She said she met with families in a nearby Red Cross staging area as the fire department worked to put out the blaze.

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"It's a four-unit apartment house that my dad built," said Jorgensen, who manages the building for her elderly father. "I remember helping him when I was 10 years old."

She said she believed all smoke alarms in the building, including in bedrooms and living areas, were working and had been checked by city inspectors in September.

All four units were occupied, with 14 total tenants, including six children, in the building, Jorgensen said. Everyone living there were family or close friends who had referred one another to the property.

"I wish I had more rentals to help with the housing," Jorgensen said. "I do have a few other rentals, but they're all full."

The families have been met with an outpouring of support in local social media pages. Three separate cars stopped and asked a Tribune photographer on Monday how they could help.

The Red Cross provided vouchers to families at the scene Sunday night, Jorgensen said, and multiple local businesses have offered to collect donations for the displaced residents.

Aiyana Hagan, a resident of the Niles building, posted a list of the families' needs on Facebook. She said residents lost "absolutely everything you can think of," including their cars and Christmas gifts.

The families are seeking donations of adult and child-sized clothing, underwear and socks, shoes, blankets, pillows, towels and other toiletries.

An apartment building at 411 Fort Street in Niles is a total loss after a fire early Monday.
An apartment building at 411 Fort Street in Niles is a total loss after a fire early Monday.

A general manager of The Nuggett Downtown Grill said the restaurant at 202 E. Main St. in Niles will accept donations for families during its business hours.

The Nuggett is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Thursday this week. The restaurant will be open until 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve and closed on Christmas Day.

CJ's Pizza & Subs at 114 N. Third St. in Niles posted on Facebook that it will also accept donations for families. The restaurant is open from 4-8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays and from 4-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Scrapper's Treasures at 211 E. Main St. in Niles will also be taking donations from 10 to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 10 a.m. to noon Friday.

Email South Bend Tribune education reporter Carley Lanich at clanich@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter: @carleylanich.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Niles apartment fire on Fort Street leaves 14 homeless at Christmas

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