Fires reported in downtown apartment buildings early Friday sent virtually every firefighter in Salt Lake City scrambling and left a number of people without homes for the night.
About 200 people, most of them senior citizens, were forced into the street when fire was reported at 12:09 a.m. in the central basement area of the 11-story Wasatch Manor apartment building at 535 S. 200 East.Several blocks away, flames in the electrical room in the basement of the Council Crest Apartments, 706 E. 300 South, forced the evacuation of about 30 occupants.
About 80 firefighters were called in to knock down the two fires, said Battalion Chief Gordon Nicholl.
A few Wasatch Manor occupants were treated by ambulance crews or transported to hospitals for treatment of smoke inhalation, Nicholl said. Mild weather allowed most of the occupants to comfortably wait out the ordeal along the street while they watched firefighters work.
Several Utah Transit Authority buses were brought in to take the elderly Wasatch Manor renters to the LDS Church building around the corner. Firefighters began letting people back in their apartments just after 2 a.m. as they cleared smoke from each floor of the building.
The event was all too familiar for some residents, who were forced out into February weather last year in a fire in the building that killed two people.
Council Crest residents weren't so lucky as a loss of electrical power to the building kept them from being able to return to their apartments for the night. Firefighters and police escorted the residents back in the darkened building with flashlights at about 1:30 a.m. to gather belongings before leaving again to spend the rest of the night with family or friends. The Red Cross also put some of the residents up in downtown hotels for the night.
Nicholl said the cause of both fires is still under investigation but will be labeled as suspicious until the actual cause is determined. There were no clues early Friday whether either fire could be linked to the rash of arson-caused fires at Olympus Care Center, 950 E. 3300 South.
Kristen Patterson, the manager at Council Crest, said several renters came to her apartment at about midnight complaining that they smelled smoke coming from their closets. She said she and another occupant started checking rooms in the building for a problem and discovered flames in the electrical room in the basement.
Damage to the Wasatch Manor building was estimated at $15,000. Estimates to damage to Council Crest building were placed at $20,000 or more.