Fire destroys apartments

Several residents left homeless following late night blaze

T-R PHOTO BY JEFF HUTTON Officials watch as firefighters tackle the fire that destroyed the Villager Apartments in downtown Marshalltown late Friday night into much of the morning Saturday. More than a dozen people lost their homes and their personal belongings in the blaze.

A three-story Marshalltown apartment building whose history dates back to the 1870s is a total loss as a result of a fire which began Friday night.

At 11:23 p.m. the Marshalltown Fire Department was dispatched to The Villager, 105 N. Center St. for a working fire with residents trapped, according to a MFD press release.

Upon arrival, MFD personnel found heavy smoke conditions and advanced fire conditions on the first floor, where the blaze had started in “apartment number two,” according to building owner Joann Striebing of Marshalltown.

Shortly thereafter, it was determined none of the 14 residents were trapped and all were able to exit the building at the time of the fire.

“I’m glad I survived and got out in time, got me, my friend, my cat and my art work I have made over the past two to three years,” said Villager resident David Perry on a Facebook post. “Hopefully I can make enough money to buy new clothes and stuff during my art show today at 1 p.m. This is the second time I have had to live through this in the past four years … scary.”

No firefighters or law enforcement personnel were hurt fighting the blaze, which was not under control until approximately four and one-half hours after they were dispatched, acceding to the MFD press release.

The cause of the fire is unknown and remains under investigation.

“I was on the phone with my apartment managers the whole time it (the fire) was going,” said Striebing , who was interviewed from Texas by the Times-Republican via telephone.

“I know the tenants are being taken care of (by the American Red Cross) but I would like to do it myself. I am sad I can not be there to help. And I am grateful all 14 residents escaped unharmed,” she said.

Assistant Fire Chief Chris Cross said gusty winds made the fire difficult to fight.

The fire spread quickly, fueled by a gusty wind of 15-20 miles per hour.

Cross said six firemen were on duty and five more were called to help.

“Multiple structural collapses occurred. including the south side exterior wall, the second and third floor, and the roof,” said Cross. “When the building became unsafe. a defensive strategy was selected and the fire was controlled with elevated streams from the ladder trucks.”

Cross said crews “could not get ahead of the fire” due to late notification, the buildings size and other factors.

It was the second time in four years fire has displaced Villager residents.

In April 2013, a fire which started on the third floor and was deemed accidental caused an estimated $75,000 in damage.

The American Red Cross helped those residents find hotel rooms as it did the victims of Friday night’s fire.

Early History

“The building had historic significance in the sense it was an early hospital,” said local historian Jay Carollo. “It was once know as Wilson’s Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Infirmary … years before the first Marshalltown hospital opened.”

Carollo said in 1908 the building became the Leland Hotel, then renamed the Clifton Hotel.

“Why it became the Clifton I don’t know … perhaps because Clifton’s Grocery store (now site of Advanced Fitness) was next door,” he said.

Owner remarks

Striebing, who has owned the building since the 1970s, said she worked hard to provide a decent place for low-income residents.

“I gave affordable housing, I gave free cable, I did whatever I could for the tenants.” she said. “I am disappointed about comments put on Facebook the building should have torn down the first time (2013 fire), she said. Everybody needs a place to live … everybody. God did not give the ability to some people to live like we do. They (the tenants) were living within their means … and without The Villager they would not have anywhere to live.”

The 10,146 square-foot structure had a taxable value of $69,920, according to an online report from the Marshall County Assessor’s Office.