Willoughby apartment fire destroys new building, damages surrounding buildings, cars

Willoughby apartment fire destroys new building, damages surrounding buildings and cars
Willoughby apartment fire destroys new building, damages surrounding buildings and cars(Willoughby Fire Department)
Published: Feb. 17, 2023 at 6:51 AM EST
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WILLOUGHBY, Ohio (WOIO) - The new construction Chagrin River Walk Apartments in Willoughby went up in flames, and the wind blew the fire to surrounding buildings, cars, and fields.

Firefighters arrived at the apartment complex on 38401 Mentor Ave. between Erie Street and Kirtland Road around 6:10 a.m., and crews are still battling the blaze.

Close to 20 fire departments responded to the scene to help put out the three alarm fire.

Willoughby Fire Chief Todd Ungar said firefighters arrived on scene to find that “the entire street was fire.”

“A lot” of flames were drifting across the street as the new construction was engulfed in a wind-driven fire, which makes it more difficult to extinguish, according to Ungar.

The heavy wind was not blowing just the blaze around, but the water firefighters used to try to put it out.

Ungar described the struggle being similar to trying to wash a car on a windy day - the water goes everywhere rather than just where you want it to.

The fire burned the exterior of the apartment buildings on both sides, primarily the siding, according to Ungar.

There are also 10-20 cars that are burned from the surrounding parking lot, and burning debris damaged the Willoughby Fine Arts Association and Andrews Osborne Academy across the street, said Ungar.

Ungar said there is no damage estimate to the Willoughby Fine Arts Association or Andrews Osborne Academy yet.

There were spot fires “all over the ground” that burned the landscaping and nearby fields, according to Ungar.

The flaming debris was going everywhere because the building was under construction, Ungar stated.

The all-wood frame construction is what Ungar said firefighters consider “lightweight construction,” that does not have fire prevention.

The four-story framed construction was in such early stages that that sprinkler system was not installed yet. said Ungar.

Ungar said the department is working with the property managers with the goal to have all residents who were evacuated return to their units by the end of the day.

The Red Cross had been providing the displaced residents with shelter and firefighters with food and water.

The neighboring apartment buildings within the complex were evacuated as the siding began melting off the building.

“When we fight fires, wind is never good.” Ungar stated. “But I would say that this was probably the best possible scenario - out of a horrible scenario - the wind direction was coming directly out of the north, and it kind of blew it into an open field and not onto these other two apartment buildings, or we would’ve had an even worse problem.”

Even though Ungar is the Willoughby Fire Chief, it was the police officers he commended for ensuring the tenants’ safety:

“I can’t say enough about our police officers, but one of the things that they did was they started going building to building and pulling the fire alarms to get everyone out. I didn’t have enough resources here to even put firefighters into those buildings because we were all focused on making sure the buildings didn’t catch on fire. The police officers were all-stars. They got in, pulled all the fire alarms, and started getting occupants if not out, at least to a part of the building where they were safe.”

police officers pulled fire alarms in the occupied buildings so they were out of their apartment units or to a safe part of the building

Andrews Osborne Academy had previously planned to take the day off as a mid-winter break, the school confirmed.

In a statement from the head of the school, Larry Goodman confirmed that food services will continue for boarding students.

The Lake County Sheriff instructs the community to avoid Mentor Avenue from Kirtland Road to the downtown Willoughby area.

Multiple city fire departments battle active Willoughby Apartment fire
Multiple city fire departments battle active Willoughby Apartment fire(woio)

This is a developing story. Return to 19 News for updates.