BEAVER DAM -- Officials called a controlled burn of Building 109 at the Village Glen apartment complex in Beaver Dam Thursday, March 15 a success. The burn took place in order to destroy volatile chemicals that led to a deadly explosion on March 5 which killed Benjamin Morrow, 28. Many area residents showed up on Thursday morning to see the blaze for themselves.
The parking lot closest to the Village Glen apartment complex was crowded, not only with emergency crews but also with those who wanted to watch things unfold.
Meantime, there was a sliver of encouraging news for residents of Building 109, which contained 16 apartment units. Bomb technicians from the FBI conducting a final sweep Thursday were able to retrieve some important items for tenants. Many of them were not allowed to collect personal belongings prior to the scheduled controlled burn.
Officials previously stated they'd lose everything because it was the chemicals inside were too dangerous and unstable.
"I feel sorry for the people that lost their stuff in there," Kathy Barriantes said.
Word of the fire spread, attracting a curious crowd.
"I've seen some fires, but not as big as this," said Ashton Tody.
"When I first pulled in, I've never see so many cars in the Fleet Farm parking lot as today," said Steve Kohout.
People in cars and trucks lined up for a front-row seat.
"I've got a perfect shot of it right here," said Kohout.
"Right now I see smoke, black smoke coming from over there," Barriantes said.
"A lot of smoke and flames," said Tody.
By lunch time, the building had collapsed to one floor. After about two hours, only a pile of rubble was left.
"My dad and brother are both over there fighting that fire," said John Stegner.
Stegner, a firefighter himself, said their top priority is keeping everyone safe.
"It's pretty hectic. I know they got 20 departments here and I can justify every one of them," said Stegner.
Cellphones, cameras and drones were recording as a dark plume of smoke and flames billowed into the air from Building 109.
"It's almost like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, you know?" said Dennis Bergmann.
Still, some said they watched the controlled burn feeling unsettled as they remembered what led up to it.
"It's scary. This is my hometown. I was born and raised in Beaver Dam and it's scary," Barriantes said.
"I guess all I can hope for is everything just works out good," said Bergmann.
While firefighters and other emergency personnel made sure the fire was contained and didn't spread to neighboring buildings, there's a long road ahead for displaced residents who are now trying to find a new normal.