UPDATED at 1:35 p.m. – Smoke could be seen for blocks after a fire sparked in the heart of downtown Monticello.
Dozens of firefighters battled flames early Wednesday morning, including some from Monticello, Manchester, Cascade, Hopkinton and Anamosa. The emergency call came in at 3:40 a.m.
Crews focused their effort on the building that housed Monticello Carpet and Interiors, in the 100 block of East First Street.
“We had fire extension out the back end of the building and it was visible flames,” said Monticello Fire Chief Mark Stoneking.
The concern from many residents and business owners was the proximity of other buildings. Most of the retailers on that block are wall-to-wall, making it easy for the fire to spread.
“They have fire walls built in between them, although often times over the years they are breached,” Stoneking said. “In this case we had fire extension into one other building but it was contained to those two.”
Stoneking said the department was working to assess the damage. He said other nearby stores also had some water or smoke damage. Keleher’s Jewelry is two doors down. It’s one of the businesses with smoke damage.
“We were woken up at about 4:28 a.m. by the alarm company, and when we looked out the window, we live on top of the hill, we could see smoke downtown,” said Keleher’s Jewelry owner Teri Keleher, as she watched the firefighters. ”So we came down, and this is what we found.”
Many people live in apartments above or behind the shops on the block. Police said they evacuated less than a dozen people. Ashley Husmann, 19, is without an apartment for now.
“I just got woken up this morning and walked out and there’s flames coming over me,” Husmann said.
Husmann was one of a few taken to City Hall to stay warm, while others found shelter with relatives. She was thankful the officer was aggressive in the search for people in the apartments. The 19-year-old didn’t wake up to the initial knock on the door.
“I’m a hard sleeper,” Husmann said. “He actually came into my bedroom and woke me up.
Monticello City Manager Doug Herman said firefighters believe the fire started near the back of the carpet store or next door in the building that was housing a new salon. He said an investigator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office would arrive on scene later in the afternoon to help find the official cause.
“You hope that it never happens in your community, but inevitably it does,” Stoneking said. “We’ve had fires to this magnitude before and hopefully you’re well-prepared for them.”
Firefighters are checking the building about every half an hour for hot spots. No one was injured.