A fire in Ripon tore through a number of downtown businesses, damaging three buildings and forcing 26 people out into the frigid Wisconsin night.
The call came in to the fire department at close to 2:30 am reporting a fire on Watson Street. The blaze quickly made its way through a block of businesses in the downtown center.
As the flames made their way through the building, mosst of the 26 people living in apartments above the downtown stores were still sleeping. Fire fighters and police moved quickly to wake the residents and get them out.
“Our police department, this morning, saved lives. And when I say that passionately, they saved lives,” said Ripon Area Fire Chief Tim Saul. “They were here evacuating people. They assisted with that. We completed that, we did a primary search to make sure occupants were out we accounted for everybody early on which was a good thing.”
Residents said they were jarred awake, and didn’t have time to collect anything before they left.
“I get up and I go to the door and there is a police officer and he’s saying to get out of our apartment that there is a fire next door,” said Christopher Luvian.
But though they escape the flames of the Ripon fire, the residents didn’t have it much easier outside. Temperatures dipped down to -5 degrees Fahrenheit overnight, creating a problem for the evacuated people and the firefighters trying to put out the blaze.
Officials said it took more than five hours for crews to put out the fire, with 20 different departments called to help fight it. The battle was so intense that it put a strain on the water supply in Ripon.
“We were flowing over 5,800 gallons a minute at one point and we had to go to different fire hydrants to be able to supply all those ladder trucks that were flowing water, we couldn’t flow all that off of one hydrant,” Saul said.
As residents try to put back the pieces of their lives, some won’t have apartments to return to at all, officials said. Two of the roofs of the buildings collapsed.
“God works in mysterious ways and this can be a blessing in disguise because while we lost stuff as long as my wife and kids are alright we can’t complain too bad,” said Luvian.
The Red Cross is helping the 26 people who were displaced by the Ripon Fire, and the Ripon Chamber of Commerce is also collecting donations for the people affected by the fire.