Photos: Indianapolis Firefighters Battle Wind-Driven Apartment Fire

Flames burning through the roof of the building
Flames burning through the roof of the building

Photos and report by Rita Reith

Indianapolis firefighters responded on Friday, January 11, 2020, to a fire with reported entrapment at the Pangea Prairie Apartments.

A mother had to throw her two children from a third-floor window and then jump to safety herself to escape the fire.

The mother told firefighters that she heard the hallway smoke alarm beeping and went to investigate. When she opened her front door, the hallway was full of smoke and she could not escape that way. She ran back to the front window of her apartment, yelled for help, and was encouraged to toss her babies to awaiting arms below.  Occupants who had already evacuated the structure gathered in front of her window and worked as a group to catch the children and woman. None of the three were injured but the children were transported to be checked out. 

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Firefighters dealt with and overcame several obstacles in fighting this fire.  First-due companies to the complex discovered that the gate to the complex was locked and had to cut the lock before entry could be made.  The complex only has one hydrant and it was not close to the building. Crews had to catch hydrants located on the outside of the complex, which created extensive hose lays and access problems for arriving apparatus.

The configuration of the complex is “serpentine” in fashion, meaning that lines laid had to be snaked through the complex and apparatus had to park well away from the burning structure. The long lays also contributed to low water pressure, which was resolved with a call to the local utility to boost the pressure.

Crews also faced dire, wind-driven fire conditions upon arrival–with a horizontal flame front–which also delayed their advance on the fire.  These heavy fire conditions in the front side stairwell prevented them from making entry to the garden apartment, permitting the fire to get ahead of them.  Fire continued to push out the back of the structure and advanced to the upper floors due to the heavy wind. 

Damage is estimated at $1M, with 12 units affected by the fire being a total loss. Approximately 50 residents were displaced. The origin of the fire is believed to be in the area of the kitchen, with cause ruled undetermined. No foul play is suspected. Partial collapse of the building prevented investigators from safe entry.

RITA L. REITH is a battalion chief with the Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD) and serves as the agency’s public information officer.


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