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Apartment fire evacuees thank community, Red Cross for help

KTVZ News Team

By Lauren Steinbrecher and Mike Anderson

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    SALT LAKE CITY (KSL) — A fire tore through an under-construction apartment complex in Sugar House. Hundreds of Sugar House residents who were forced to leave their homes early Wednesday morning while the smoke still loomed overhead.

This fire was massive, sending flames 50 to 100 feet into the air.

Even after 6 p.m. Wednesday it was still a very active scene.

The fire department planned to begin demolition on parts of the burned out structure Wednesday night because it was a very real concern it could collapse.

More than 1,000 people were evacuated according to the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

Residents like Emily Woods grabbed what they needed for the day.

“I stopped at home and grabbed the essentials. Hopefully, I get to go home tonight,” Woods said. “I was supposed to have a shift today and did not get to go to work because I was in my pajamas, evacuated.”

Staff and volunteers with the Red Cross say they’re ready to help where needed.

“This is what we do, right? We drop everything to be able to support people that are affected,” said Mackenzie Jones, a Red Cross disaster program manager.

Jones said people who do not get to go back to the Sugarmont and other neighboring apartments would have space, along with snacks and meals.

Dozens sought shelter at the Forest Dale Golf Course clubhouse overnight into the early hours of Wednesday because they didn’t have friends or family to stay with.

Evacuees were then moved to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ stake building at 2005 S. 900 East, not far from the fire.

By Wednesday afternoon, people were filtering in and out as they figured out the next steps.

“(It) was a long night, but it’s OK now,” said Ana Wujkowska, an evacuated resident.

She and her daughter are among the many trying to be ready to do what they have to.

“We might come back if we’re not facing the burning building, but it really just depends on how well it goes, but it’s not been good since morning,” said another evacuated resident, CJ.

Kevin Turner and his husband sat at a table, calling it home for the day. He had received an email from his apartment complex The Vue at Sugar House Crossing a couple of hours prior. The email explained that residents needed to grab belongings from their apartment ASAP but could not return home permanently just yet.

“We still have no power, and they will not be letting any cars in or out of the building,” Turner said, reading the email from his phone. The couple’s apartment faces the building that caught fire. Turner snapped a photo right before they left, getting a glimpse at where the fire may have started.

“It’s fourth floor, is my guess,” Turner said, looking at the photo on his phone. The picture showed flames coming out of the fourth or fifth floor, near the corner of the building. “And you can see pretty quickly just even from this photo, that it’s going pretty fast.”

Turner explained that they had about 60 seconds to get out after a security guard came banging on their door yelling for them to evacuate.

Justin Gutzwa, who also lives at The Vue, didn’t even have time to grab anything.

“I had what I’m wearing now. Except my pants were on inside out because I was in such a rush,” he said. Gutzwa, not realizing he was going to evacuate for the night, also wore flip-flops.

As the massive blaze raged on outside, others like Scot Myers and Juliana Massey, who live in the Sugarmont Apartments and Townhomes complex, sought shelter after hearing alarms throughout the building.

“We kind of grabbed what we could and rushed out,” Massey said.

A sleepless night at the Forest Dale evacuation center turned into an anxious day at the church building and Red Cross shelter.

“It’s been chaos, so we haven’t had too much time to plan yet,” Myers said. Massey continued, “I think we’re kind of still waiting to see what’s going to happen because, I know the other apartment complex, they’re letting people in.”

The couple wasn’t sure where they’d stay the night with their dog, Dolly.

Gutzwa went ahead and booked a hotel through renters’ insurance.

Many of those evacuees recently moved to Utah with no resources to lean on otherwise.

“We just moved here to Salt Lake, so we don’t have roots in the area, we don’t have a lot of contacts,” Turner explained. “So, figuring out how to do a lot of the stuff, it would be a lot harder to do without the American Red Cross and the LDS Church helping us out.”

By Wednesday evening, many were able to return home to Sugarmont and The Vue, with Salt Lake City Fire Department saying that select units in both complexes will remain evacuated because of demolition and continued firefighting operations.

‘Being as prepared as possible’ The Red Cross set out cots Wednesday night, but no one had arrived to stay there.

The Red Cross Cross says donations are a significant part of what helps them do all this — along with several other organizations also helping, like the Salvation Army providing food and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with its buildings.

Being prepared is what helped them respond so quickly after this all broke out last night. And donations, in large part, are making that possible.

“When we’re not in an operation like this, we’re definitely striving toward being as prepared as possible for events like this so that we can act as quickly as possible,” Jones said

Evacuees expressed that they’re grateful no one was hurt in the fire, and that it destroyed only the unoccupied complex.

They also gave thanks to the organizations that helped support them through the night and the next day.

“I just want to thank everybody from UTA, from the Red Cross, from the church here that’s housed us, the golf course, all the emergency responders,” Gutzwa expressed. “Everybody’s just been really, incredibly kind and supportive and understanding during this weird, kind of freak experience that sadly, is impacting a large part of our communities.”‘

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