5 displaced in city fire

PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette Smoke pours from 702 First Ave. in the city, where a fire broke out in a bathroom late Sunday afternoon. The fire was extinguished in a matter of minutes, but all five tenants of the three-unit apartment building were temporarily displaced. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Awakened by thick black smoke that was swirling from their bathroom, Lionel Gelu and Bonnie Young quickly, but safely bolted from their first-floor apartment late Sunday afternoon when a fire broke out at 702 First Ave.

Gelu, and Young, 47, made their way to the front door through what Gelu described as “choking smoke.” Using his cellphone, he called 911.

While the couple made it out, their cat, Sassy, was still in the apartment.

Passerby Samuel Agor, 26, said he went in the apartment and brought the cat out, but the feline was missing after the fire had been brought under control.

“I saw flames on the side of the building,” Agor said.

Once outside, Young alerted her upstairs neighbors, Daniel Van Valkenburg and Helen Hall, telling them to get out of the building. They live in the 704 side of the three-unit two-and-a-half-story apartment building. Each unit has its own house number. A single man lives in the 706 side, but his identity was not available.

Firefighters were dispatched to the property about 5:10 p.m. and had the fire under control within minutes.

Assistant Chief Mark Killian said even though most of the fire was confined to the bathroom at 702, all five tenants are temporarily displaced because electrical service to the entire building had to be shut off.

The tenants in 704 and 706 should be able to get back into their apartments in a day or two once power is restored. It could be longer for Young and Gelu.

The local chapter of the American Red Cross was providing emergency assistance to the victims.

Fire investigators will return to the apartment this morning and will be joined by the city’s Bureau of Codes as the investigation into the cause of the fire continues.

Preliminary damage estimates were in the area of $10,000, fire officials said.