HELENA – An apartment building on East Broadway was closed off Thursday morning, after Helena Fire Department leaders said a fire overnight caused significant damage.
Fire Marshal Lou Antonick said the city was not letting anyone inside the building because of serious damage to the roof.
The fire began sometime before 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Authorities say it was first spotted by someone outside the building, and that person went door-to-door to alert the residents, then called 911.
The building contains four apartments. Firefighters say one was vacant, and there were about four or five people living in the remaining units. All got out safely. Authorities said the American Red Cross is helping some of the residents find places to stay.
By the time firefighters arrived, there were substantial flames and smoke in the attic. HFD Assistant Chief Mike Chambers said it was a challenging fire to deal with.
“Anytime you have an attic fire or a fire that moves into the attic, it’s a confined space with not a lot of open places to access it,” he said. “So usually you have to start pulling ceilings from the inside of each apartment, which is very, very labor-intensive.”
Crews spent about four hours fighting the fire. HFD rotated crews throughout that time, while off-duty firefighters came in to help cover other calls while the fire went on. The West Valley and Montana City volunteer fire departments also provided assistance through the local mutual aid system.
“Having that many bodies with a labor-intensive fire, it’s huge,” said Chambers.
Antonick said the building will remain closed for now. Insurance examiners will have to inspect it to determine whether it is stable.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Chambers said this fire is a good reminder to make sure you have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your living areas – and that they have new batteries. He said they are especially important this time of year.
“Early detection is key for us,” he said. “If we can get early detection and get here quickly, early in the fire, we can get water on it more quickly and minimize damage, preserve property.”