Fire burns Elma apartment complex

A fire that ravaged an Elma apartment complex Thursday morning left about 15 people homeless, but all of the building’s residents were able to get out without injury.

Authorities received a 911 call at 6:20 a.m. Crews from Elma Fire Department, McCleary Fire Department and Grays Harbor Fire District 5 responded to the blaze. The fire was extinguished at about 11:30 a.m. but continued to smolder throughout the day.

Elma Police Chief Jeff Troumbley said the cause of the fire is still unknown and that his department and the Elma Fire Department will complete a full investigation.

Austin Powell, who lives across the street from the fire, awoke early Thursday morning to his wife, Jillanna Powell, screaming. He said he smelled the fire and went outside to see what was happening.

“By that time, the whole front of the building was ablaze,” Austin Powell said. “There was so much ash and smoke that you could barely see in front of you.”

He crossed the street to make sure the residents were safe. He and his wife provided the building’s residents with coffee and blankets as they waited for authorities to put out the fire.

“Most of them ran out wearing just what they slept in,” Austin Powell said. “Elma’s a small place, and if you know a couple of people you know everybody. We just wanted to help them out. It’s the neighborly thing to do.”

Jillanna Powell said several families with children live in the burned building, so she’s thankful everyone was able to act quickly and get out. She said there are three or four children under the age of 4 who live in the building.

“With so many people with such little children, I’m surprised that everyone made it out safely,” Jillanna Powell said.

Stephen Finley, Director of Emergency Services for the American Red Cross, said all of the residents of the 10-unit building were able to find friends or relatives to stay with. The Red Cross has a shelter on stand-by in case someone needs a place to stay, and provided victims with food and clothing.

And while damage to the apartment complex was considerable, Chief Dan Prater of Grays Harbor Fire District 5 said it could have been much worse.

“In my 22 years doing this, I’ve seen these buildings burn to the ground in similar fires,” Prater said. “But these departments did a great job of making sure it stopped where it did.”