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12 families lose homes after fire ravages Hillcrest Apartment

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Twelve families are without homes after a fire Thursday destroyed one of the Hillcrest Apartment buildings in south Brainerd.

The previously quiet south Brainerd neighborhood — consisting of apartment buildings that can be seen off Business Highway 371 — turned chaotic in an instance when flames billowed out of the roof and the sides of the apartment. Residents, some with their pets, were able to escape from the burning apartment, while around 30 Brainerd firefighters, and another 20 firefighters providing mutual aid from Nisswa and Crosby Fire battled

the blaze.

Brainerd police, Crow Wing County Sheriff’s deputies, North Memorial Ambulance staff and the DNR also assisted at the scene talking with the residents, making sure no one was injured. No one was seriously injured, but one resident was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation by North Memorial and one Brainerd firefighter was treated on scene for smoke inhalation and then transported to Essentia Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center where he was treated and then released.

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the State Fire Marshal’s office, but Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek said it appeared that the fire started from a smoldering cigarette. The estimated loss of the apartment is $1 million.

Stunek said when firefighters arrived the building was fully engulfed in flames and heavy smoke. The fire, which was reported at 2:51 p.m., was contained around 4:33 p.m. and Stunek said firefighters were expected to be on scene through morning.

Stunek said Brainerd Fire had two fire trucks on scene and Nisswa and Crosby each had one fire truck on scene. Pillager Fire assisted with mutual aid at the Brainerd Fire Station, in case other fire calls would come in.

“The fire started in the middle of the complex,” said Stunek. “We were able to extinguish the fire quickly. The firefighters did a great job and all the agencies worked well together.”

The American Red Cross are assisting the families who will be sheltered at the Brainerd Lakes Hotel.

Jan Bender, who lives in a ground level apartment at the building, said she didn’t have time to put her shoes on when she realized that the apartment building, located at 2315 Hillcrest Drive, was on fire. Bender said her dog barked and alerted her of the fire. Bender only had time to grab her purse, a leash and her dog before running out of the apartment.

Toni Patron is another resident whose apartment was damaged Thursday afternoon.

“I have so many antiques and family heirlooms in there,” Patron said, pointing to his burning apartment building. “I hope some of it will be salvageable.”

Patron said she was just arriving home when she saw the fire. Patron said she helps The Center with their doughnuts on Thursday and she just finished delivering them. Patron said she was on her way home to take a nap before she had to be at the Franklin Arts Center for the Geritol Frolics.

Mary Springs, who lives in the apartment building next to the apartment that was up in flames, watched the fire from across the street with her friend Anita Parker.

“We were in the apartment and we started hearing a lot of sirens so we came out on the balcony and saw the fire,” said Springs. “A lot of the people who live there are at work. It will be so sad when they see this. If they need anything I’ll help.”

Parker said, “I couldn’t imagine coming home to this, to lose everything.”

Parker said she was on her way to the apartments at around 2:50 p.m. when she saw black smoke. She said she knew that it was the apartments that were on fire.

Don and Carol Hanson, who live in the townhomes near the apartments, watched as the firefighters battled the fire.

“This is scary,” said Carol Hanson. “We heard the sirens and we came out of the house and saw the fire.”

Don Hanson said the firefighters and emergency personnel were doing a good job at containing the fire.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851. Follow me on Twitter at