The roof collapsed within minutes.
Thick smoke from the fire at Hurwich Farms Apartments, near Portage Avenue just north of Cleveland Road, could be seen almost four miles away in downtown.
No one was injured.
Lois Banacki became aware of the fire when she stepped onto her third-floor balcony and heard a “pop.” Some called it a bang. Just about everyone seemed to hear it. David Waller II, who was moving someone into another building, said, “I thought it was a backfire or a car crash.”
Fire alarms began ringing.
Banacki, 63, grabbed the cage with her pet parakeet — “I call her Baby Girl,” she says — and descended the stairs to safety.
Her neighbor Drew, 22, checked on her room and saw nothing. Then he opened her neighbor’s door, felt a wall of heat and saw flames licking the balcony and drapes.
“It was just starting to get to his apartment,” Drew said.
Maintenance workers knocked on doors to tell residents to leave.
Firefighters were called to the fire just after 1 p.m. They “believe they were able to get everyone evacuated,” said South Bend Fire Chief Stephen Cox.
A Hurwich Farms manager, who didn’t give his name, estimated that the building has about 36 units. The complex could be more than 20 years old, he said.
Cox said fire investigators haven’t yet determined what caused the fire or the extent of damage. Fire clearly gutted the middle section, and water damage seemed possible at either end.
Cox said he didn’t know yet whether the building has firewalls.
Residents watched in the sunshine as South Bend firefighters continued in defensive mode, dousing the exterior with massive fountains of water from their hoses until the smoke was gone.
Michael Sizemore, 23, said that his wife and their 2-week-old baby had left their apartment a half-hour before the fire broke out. She was visiting St. Pius Catholic School, where she’s on maternity leave as a teacher — and just stayed there while firefighters worked. Sizemore himself got out when he heard a bang on the door.
Jenny Scope, 22, heard the pop and the fire alarms and ducked out with her 4-year-old, Isabel, who wasn’t sure what a fire was until they watched the flames from outside.
“She’s better after ice cream,” Scope said, having made a trip to Sonic.
The American Red Cross was on scene trying to make contact with residents to see what they needed. The nearby Burger King provided dinner. And the Hurwich Farms staff was trying to find other units in the complex for those who were displaced.
Banacki assumes that she lost everything in the blaze.
“That’s OK,” she said, with her adult daughter at her side. “God got my bird and me out, and I got my kid.”
Stay with WSBT online and on air for updates on this story.
Video courtesy of Josh Banks.