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BREAKING: Albertville Apartment Fire Caused by Cigarette Butt, Displaces Residents on Chilly Morning

Residents woke up to banging doors and the smell of smoke as a ground floor unit smoldered Saturday at the complex on Wright County Road 37.

UPDATE, 3:25 p.m.: Albertville Fire chief Tate Mills said a cigarette butt that was not completely put out caused the fire, and the department ruled that the fire was accidental.

The "careless discard," in which someone threw their cigarette butt right outside the building while it was still lit, started a fire in the partition that separates the unit from the patio at a first-floor unit, Mills said.

"The cigarette butt started the bottom of the wall on fire, and the smoke got inside the wall," he said.

One apartment unit is displaced temporarily, after firefighters ripped the wall apart to get to the source of the fire.

He said the only reason the unit is displaced is because the walls were ripped apart, not because of the fire damage.

"Otherwise it was pretty minor damage," Mills said.

The fire left smoke odor throughout the building and in the hallways, and the unit next door to the fire has a "tiny bit" of water in it, he added.

The exterior of the apartment also has smoke and water damage, and owners of the complex will have to replace insulation, sheetrock, siding and a few two-by-sixes in between walls.

"There were no visible flames, just smoke," he said.

The fire department was paged at about 8:41 a.m., and the fire was controlled by 9 a.m., Mills said.  From then on out, firefighters checked for any extension to the fire or smoke damage, and called it "all clear" at around 10:45 a.m.

The displaced family did not need help from the Red Cross, something that is offered by the fire department to any fire victim. Mills said they might be staying with family.

He added that many fires have happened in the area when people carelessly throw cigarette butts or don't having the correct receptacle to place them in. He said cigarette butts should be placed in something made of steel, and something that has water in it, to make sure it’s put out completely.

"Just throwing them on the ground or putting them in a plastic flower pot — that's what causes these fires," he said. "Or a lot of times people will just throw them on the ground and not put them out, and then the wind picks up and starts a fire."

He said this happens often.

"It's a good reminder to everybody," he said. "I can’t tell you how many times it's happened — countless. I’ve been on numerous fires where this is the cause."

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"It wasn't a fun way to wake up," said Jocelyn, a 15-year-old resident of the Albertville Meadows apartment complex. 

Neighbors banged on doors and firefighters arrived shortly after 8:45 a.m. after witnesses smelled smoke coming from poolside unit in the 10740 building. 

Firefighters worked feverishly to break through walls and the ceiling and squash the fire, which was burning up insulation in between the walls witnesses said. 

"I thought someone was knocking on my door," said Chris Fleming, who lives in a third floor unit in the 10740 building. "It turned out they were knocking on doors on the floors below, but I immediately smelled the smoke. I checked all my appliances and outlets to see it [the fire] wasn't coming up through my walls, and then my son and I got out." 

There were dozens huddled in their pajamas and sweatshirts, as the morning fire had rousted many out of bed. Apartment managers opened the community room in the building next door–10700 County Road 37–to keep residents warm. 

No injuries were reported. 

"I was actually leaving for work," said Eric Murphy, a resident of the complex. "I saw a guy who was outside, and he said he could smell the smoke, and then we saw it. I thought it was maybe someone's breakfast burning, but he said it was a 'different' smell than food burning. He was right. He ran through the building and started waking people up, telling them to get out." 

Murphy said she tried to find the Good Samaritan later, but couldn't. 

Fleming, who said he's lived in the complex since August, added he was glad he had renter's insurance as he watched the firefighters tear away siding and walls inside his building. 

"It's a mess," he said. "Even if you're upstairs from it." 

Albertville Fire was assisted by St. Michael Fire and Monticello Fire and Rescue at the scene. Allina Ambulance and Wright County Sheriff's Deputies were also on hand. 

Check back with St. Michael Patch for updates on this event. 

Rick December 10, 2012 at 06:19 AM
I wish Albertville Fire Chief Mills would have also mentioned the careless throwing of cigarettes by people out of their car windows. Not only classless and dirtbaggish, but those start many median and surrounding areas on fire also.

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