BAYSIDE -- An investigation continued Sunday, March 31 into what sparked a three-alarm blaze at a 62-unit apartment building in Bayside early Saturday, March 30. Officials with North Shore Fire/Rescue said between 15 and 20 residents had to be rescued amid the massive fire that destroyed the building. The American Red Cross set up a shelter at St. Eugene's Congregation and School near Port Washington Road and Calumet Road to help those who lost everything.
North Shore Fire officials responded around 12:15 a.m. after 911 callers reported a significant fire in the building that was rapidly growing in the 62-unit building that's part of a four-building complex between Port Washington Road and I-43, just north of Brown Deer Road.
"I could see there was this bright orange light coming from this side, from around the corner," said Jaja Jarrar, tenant.
Bayside police officers on routine patrol arrived within four minutes of the call and reported a large body of fire on all three floors of the building -- extending to the attic.
"From 12:15 to 12:40, the whole apartment was ablaze. This happened really, really fast," said Shane Lindberg, tenant.
Police began evacuating the building as firefighters conducted a search and rescue operation -- removing victims from balconies on the second and third floors. North Shore Fire/Rescue officials said between 15 and 20 had to be assisted in leaving the building because of smoke and fire conditions amid the three-alarm blaze.
"They hoisted it up to my balcony. Firefighter came up and he hopped over and helped me go over the railing," said Martha Reitman, tenant. "I could see it all engulfed in flames my whole living room through the patio door. That was kinda hard."
Two people had to be taken to the hospital, along with one firefighter, who suffered injuries not believed to be life-threatening while working at the fire scene. That firefighter was treated and released. Six residents were treated on scene.
"Grabbed this coat. Grabbed the cats. We each took a cat -- threw them out the window," said Jarrar.
It wasn't easy for this couple to see what was left of their home.
"My heart broke. I thought maybe because we were on the first floor that maybe there would be some way something could be salvageable," said Jarrar.
Their two cats made it out of the fire that officials fought for nearly 10 hours.
"I think we were in a mode -- 'we have to keep moving,'" said Jarrar. "I don't want to think too hard about the things that I lost, because the cats are OK and that's what's important is that we're all OK."
Fire officials said the blaze started on a balcony, and it may have been electrical in nature. North Shore Fire/Rescue officials and Bayside police requested assistance from the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigation-State Fire Marshal's Office to assist in determining the cause. It's not believed to be suspicious.
Red Cross officials expected to staff the shelter at St. Eugene's for at least three to four days. Meanwhile, officials with Katz Properties were working to assist residents in finding alternative housing and relocating tenants.