DULUTH - Much of Duluth's fire department responded to a raging fire at an East Hillside apartment building Sunday morning.
The fire was reported just before 11 a.m. and wind-whipped flames raced through the top floors, attic and roof of the multi-unit building at 802 E. Third St. in Duluth's East Hillside neighborhood.
All residents got out safely, including one resident of a second-floor unit who was rescued through a window by firefighters with a ladder when the person was unable to leave through the apartment door due to heavy smoke and fire in the hallway, said Assistant Fire Chief Erik Simonson.
One firefighter was hospitalized after breathing in "super-heated air" when his mask was knocked off by falling debris inside the building.
"He's doing OK. He's going to be all right," Simonson told the News Tribune.
No one else was injured. The Duluth fire marshal was on the scene Sunday afternoon investigating but had not yet determined a cause of the fire. It was unclear exactly how many units were in the building. Residents said they thought there were eight units in the building although fire officials said it was licensed for six.
Firefighters initially arrived to see smoke and fire on a second-floor balcony and then encountered heavy smoke and fire on the third floor and attic area, forcing them to retreat to battle the blaze from outside.
At least eight fire trucks and 26 firefighters were on the scene into the afternoon. The wood-framed building appeared to be severely damaged with parts of the roof collapsed. Simonson said initial damage estimates are between $75,000 to $100,000 with units on the top floors completely destroyed.
Acrid black smoke choked Third Street as flames danced out of the top-floor windows and through the roof for more than an hour. Heat from the flames could be felt 100 feet away from the burning building. Fire hoses stretched for blocks in every direction. Second and Third streets were closed for several hours, with crews on the scene still mopping up after 3 p.m.
Sandra Kushman, who lives in a first-floor apartment, said a neighbor in the building ran through the halls yelling "fire." She said she grabbed her pet birds and her dog, Goober, and ran out with nothing more than the clothes she was wearing.
"Everyone is out, that's what matters. Oh, I wish I could have got my daughter's photos ... but there wasn't time," she told the News Tribune. "As long as I got Goober, I'm OK. These old houses just go up like a time bomb."
Cindy Feliciano grabbed her pet parrot, Birdybug, and ran outside without putting shoes on.
"He's a rescue parrot. He's going to be OK. I'm not sure what I'm going to do," she said.
Other residents of the building cried as they watched flames move across the building, engulfing all of the top floor apartments.
Temperatures were in the lower 40s and winds were gusting to more than 25 mph off Lake Superior.
"The wind really did not help us. There was a lot of flame in that building," Simonson said.
Several passersby offered jackets to displaced residents and Gold Cross paramedics wrapped people in blankets. The Duluth Transit Authority brought a bus for residents to wait in and Red Cross was called to offer temporary housing for three of the displaced residents. Other residents were able to find their own places to stay.