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Five-alarm fire creates challenges in neighborhood

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MILWAUKEE -- As many as 150 Milwaukee firefighters battled a five-alarm fire in a commercial building that housed a grocery store near 12th and W. Vliet Street for several hours Wednesday, June 20th. The fire had a ripple effect throughout the neighborhood, creating challenges for neighbors, Milwaukee Public Schools officials and even a few bus routes.

Debra Harris could hear her neighbors outside, and when she came out of her home, she said she saw thick, black smoke Wednesday morning.

"We don't have any electric and you could hear (the people upstairs) were upset because there is no electricity. Only thing you could see was a lot of smoke," Harris said.

We Energies officials were on the scene handling power outages.

The smoke caused visibility issues for people traveling on I-43.

The smoke was so intense in the neighborhood, MPS moved children out of schools in the area. Alliance School took their children to North Division until the fire was extinguished and the smoke died down.

Additionally, two Milwaukee County Transit Authority bus routes were detoured to avoid getting in the way of firefighting efforts.

Repairers of the Breach, a nearby daytime homeless shelter was on standby for possible evacuation.

"There was a smoke inhalation challenge outside our front door, where masks were being distributed, so people didn't have to experience the smoke inhalation," Repairers of the Breach Executive Director MacCanon Brown said.

Brown said especially considering Wednesday's sweltering temperatures, the shelter generally provides bottled water for the homeless once they leave the shelter for the night, as many don't have access to tap water. They said on Wednesday, their supply was getting low.

"Some of them are in medical conditions where they could get so dehydrated they could go into organ failure, etc., so we put out an appeal for water," Brown said.

There was a fear the fire barricades would hamper donated water getting in, but that was not an issue.

However, the community lost a popular grocer after Wednesday's fire.

"Now that it went up in flames, we going to have a hard time getting groceries and stuff like that because it was real convenient for people in the area to get to," one neighbor said.

Additionally, the Coggs Human Services Center at 12th and Vliet will be closed until Monday, June 25th due to smoke and soot damage. About 500 Milwaukee County employees work at the Coggs Center.

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