NORMAL — The Normal Fire Department responded at 1:25 p.m. Saturday to a fire on the third floor of the Sugar Creek Apartments, 606 S. Linden St., Normal.
No injuries were reported, but 12 apartment units were involved in the fire, and a broken fire hydrant and a subzero wind chill factor complicated the firefighting efforts.
Normal was assisted by fire departments in Hudson, Carlock and Bloomington, with about 40 firefighters working the scene at 3 p.m. Saturday. At 4 p.m., the aerial trucks stopped pouring water from above and firefighters began pulling siding away from the building.
Icicles began forming along the edge of the roof shortly after firefighters stopped the flow of water. The roof of the center section of the building appeared to be gone, but firewalls prevented the flames from spreading to the sections on the east and west, said NFD spokesman Matt Swaney.
Swaney said the origin and cause of the fire were not yet known. Once firefighters could knock out "hot spots" inside the building, the investigation work would begin Saturday night, he said.
"Right now we're trying to rehabilitate our firefighters" and help them warm up, Swaney said Saturday afternoon.
When fires occur during freezing cold, he added, "it's a race against time" to gather equipment filled with water before it freezes.
Firefighters were seen using rubber mallets to break ice off of ladders.
Nathan Trice, a resident of the apartment building, recalled smelling a "campfirey smell" before the fire was discovered. He and his roommate were able to grab some valuables before leaving the building. Their unit is on the far end of the building and not directly affected by the fire.
Still, he said, "By the time we got out the whole roof was on fire."
Trice's roommate, Alexander Neff, had been sleeping when he heard Trice get up.
"I didn't smell anything, but then I heard the sirens," Neff said.
Marisa Hortonmeza lives in an apartment on the side that was protected by the firewall.
"It was scary," she said of the speed at which the fire grew.
Another resident, Jack Fletcher, said there was very little smoke initially.
"Then we got out and the whole roof was on fire," he said. Fletcher lives on the east side of the building, where the fire did not spread.
The Sugar Creek Apartments house primarily students. Illinois State University President Larry Dietz arrived on the scene shortly after 3:30 p.m. and talked to some of the students. A representative of the Dean of Students Office also was on the scene asking students what assistance they might need.
ISU sent buses to provide shelter to students displaced by the fire, and the ISU Police Department said they have been in contact with the apartment management company.
"The University will work with affected students to ensure they have food and lodging," according to a statement on the ISU Police Department's Facebook page. "The Red Cross will assist as needed. Impacted students can email the Dean of Students Office at email@example.com for information about housing, food, clothing, student absences, etc. Staff are monitoring this email address."
Dietz expressed thankfulness that everyone got out and that no one was injured.
"It could have been a lot worse," he said.
Photos: Normal and Bloomington fire departments fight fire at Linden Street apartments
Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota