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Three injured in Rock Island fire at high-rise apartment complex Spencer Towers

The initial call of a structure fire came in just before 3pm on Monday, January 18, 2021.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — A high-rise apartment building downtown Rock Island caught on fire Monday afternoon, January 18, injuring three, and prompting hundreds of people to be evacuated or to shelter in place.

The fire broke out around 3 p.m. in a unit on the 6th floor of Spencer Towers, located at 111 20th Street.  Spencer Towers is nine floors. 

Three people were taken to the hospital, according to Rock Island Fire Marshal Greg Marty. Two had minor injuries and one was in serious condition. 

According to a later statement from Community Home Partners, several tenants from the building sought medical treatment after the fire.

Marty said that a box alarm was called, meaning any emergency responders available should report to the scene. 

"Because of the size of the building and the hundreds and hundreds of people who live here and the way the smoke did move through the building the potential for injury was very high so the response is proportionate to that," said Marty.

Rock Island Fire Marshal Greg Marty says thanks to the buildings concrete walls the fire was easily contained. “These buildings are very good at keeping fire in the area of origin or stay shut, but they don’t always contain the smoke from moving throughout the building.”

The department started first by removing all residents in the immediate area. Rick Waitkus lives on the eighth floor of the building. He says he saw smoke and knew it wasn’t a false alarm. “I just covered my mouth and ran to the stairs and got the heck out of there.”

Kelly Kirkwood lives on the fifth floor and says she also could see and smell the smoke. “It was very smoky so good think I had a mask on.”

The fire marshal says due to the nature of the building and the concrete walls, the fire department told some residents that it is better to stay put for rescue. That includes residents that may be elderly or mobility impaired.

Kirkwood was one of the residents that sheltered in place. She says it was alarming to stay put, but knew it was the safer option. “Just waiting for them to come to me and say okay got to get out. Now I’m waiting for them to say okay you can come back in.”

Angeline White lives on the ninth floor, which is the top floor. “I smelled the smoke coming down the stair way because I couldn’t get to the elevator.” She made the climb down to the bottom floor and evacuated across the street.

The fire was extinguished quickly, but heavy smoke set in to the 6th floor and those above it. 

Marty said some pets were treated at the scene.  How many and their conditions are unknown. 

By 5 p.m. residents on floors two through seven were allowed back inside.  Many waited on a MetroLink bus to stay out of the cold while they waited for directives from officials. 

Credit: WQAD

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