Fire destroys apartment complex in Watertown
WATERTOWN (AP) — No serious injuries were reported when an overnight fire destroyed a senior housing apartment complex in the eastern South Dakota city of Watertown.
All 43 residents of the Sunchase Apartments made it out after the 41-unit complex caught fire late Tuesday. One person was taken to a hospital with what authorities said were injuries that were not life-threatening, and another person was treated at the scene, according to KELO-TV.
“The evacuation was kind of slow, Police Col. Matt Hegg told KDLT-TV. ”The residents, some of them were kind of elderly. They needed to be helped out. There was some staff on scene here. We had plenty of first responders so we got it all done."
The housing complex, a square building with a courtyard in the middle, is for senior citizens who can still live independently, according to KWAT radio.
Resident Jon Strait told the station that hallways were filled with heavy black smoke as residents made their way outside barefoot and in night gowns, and there wasn't time to grab many belongings.
“They came knocking on my door, hollering, ‘Fire, get out, get out, get out,’ so I dressed quick and got out,” he said.
Strait said his initial escape route was blocked by flames and smoke but he made it out through another door.
“I grabbed some of my stuff — two pieces of stuff — and got out the door and put it in my truck,” he said.
It was not immediately known if there were sprinklers in the building. If there were, they were not working when firefighters were battling the blaze, Watertown Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Don Rowland told the Public Opinion newspaper.
Most residents were picked up by family members. The Salvation Army helped find hotel rooms for others. Some pharmacies in the city of 21,500 people opened up overnight in case residents needed medications.
Firefighters from Watertown, Castlewood, Florence and Henry fought the flames, having to deal at times with exploding oxygen tanks. Emergency officials from Watertown, Codington County and Hamlin County also responded to the scene.
The state fire marshal was on the scene Wednesday looking into the fire's cause. Officials with the state Division of Criminal Investigation and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were to join the investigation, according to the Public Opinion.