Reignited: Four-alarm fire damages bar, apartments on Milwaukee’s south side

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) — A three-alarm fire that broke out Monday night on Milwaukee’s south side reignited into a four-alarm fire Tuesday morning. Some had to jump to an adjacent building in order to get out alive. A tavern and several apartments were destroyed.

The fire weakened the backside of the building, and it collapsed Tuesday. As the building was set to be demolished Tuesday, residents said it's a miracle everyone is okay.

Fire officials were initially called out to the scene near Cesar Chavez Drive near Walker Street around 10:30 p.m. Monday.

Firefighters were called back to the building around 8 a.m. Tuesday after smoke was reported coming from the building. The fire was upgraded to a four-alarm.

The three-story structure, which contains a bar on the first floor and apartments on the second the third floors, sustained significant fire and water damage.

Local Red Cross workers were requested at 10:58 p.m. Monday.  A city bus was made available to keep the residents warm and in one place.

The American Red Cross is helping 19 people – 16 adults and three children from eight families – following the fire. The Red Cross is providing help with emergency housing, food, clothing, etc.

The Red Cross opened a shelter Monday night at Ascension Lutheran so everyone had a safe place to rest.  On Tuesday, client caseworkers met with each individual family to address their situation.

Red Cross officials said this in a statement to FOX6 News:

"We are moving families into emergency housing (Tuesday night) (hotels) and are working with city partners for a longer-term solution. We also provided them with sweatsuits and personal hygiene kits along with professional resources during this difficult situation. Financial assistance for clothing, food, bedding and transportation was also provided. Red Cross team members will be available to help the families moving forward from the initial disaster response through recovery. This included listening to their stories, which in one case involved a gentleman sharing how he alerted his neighbors of the danger and pulled people to safety. Once residents were pulled to safety on the neighboring roof, fire fighters and ladders were used to get everyone safely to the ground."

Firefighters tell FOX6 News that some residents had to be rescued from the roof of a building next to the structure. They apparently jumped to that roof to escape the flames.

Officials say five people were treated on scene for smoke inhalation. Additionally, two firefighters were injured while battling the blaze -- one sustained an ankle injury and one sustained an injury to their shoulder.

With just the clothes on his back, Francisco Melendez dodged flames and sacrificed his safety for his neighbors.

"I lost everything -- even my shoes," Melendez said.

Melendez is now being hailed a hero. He says he never thought twice about doing what he could to rescue fellow residents from the burning building.

"To help each other stay alive. I just wanted to survive. That was the main thing in my mind -- to survive, and nobody else get hurt," Melendez said.

Melendez says he woke up in his third-floor apartment and saw a wall of smoke. He put his fear aside and jumped into action.

"There was a couple with five kids in there," Melendez said.

Melendez and two teenagers broke windows to get everyone across to the adjacent building.

"We jumped to the roof on the next building. We had to escape -- otherwise we would have gotten burned. The part that we jumped from, the window, there was a flame. They were very scared, crying and shaking. (It was) really scary and (we were) afraid to die," Melendez said.

"It was very dangerous for people -- especially the children. They stayed there for about two hours until the firemen helped them down. This fire was deep seated and heavily involved and for us to keep it out of neighboring business is a huge  success. I know the building is lost, the memories, at least no lives were lost it`s the most important thing for me," Milwaukee Fire Deputy Chief Terry Lintonen said.

Rosa Espino owns the building.

"It's sad. Now we have to start a new life," Espino said.

Espino has lived in the building for 30 years, and she's owned the tavern on the first floor for the last 28 years. Now, her home and her livelihood are destroyed.

"I just pray to give me the strength to survive this," Espino said.

The building was built in 1897. It had a history of violations at the time of this fire -- about 20 open violations, all were for maintenance. Although the building had a history of violations related to fire safety, city officials say those were taken care of as of fall 2014.

The cause of the fire is unknown and remains under investigation.

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