COLUMBUS, Ind. — A cooking fire in a Columbus apartment complex resulted in an estimated $15,000 in damage and the evacuation of 11 tenants.

Columbus firefighters were called to the Willowood/Applegate Apartment complex after receiving a dispatch at about 5:22 p.m. Thursday alerting them about a kitchen fire in the 3600 block of Cardinal Court. As crews responded, 911 dispatchers relayed information that Columbus Police Department officers had arrived at the scene and confirmed the apartment was on fire. Officers also confirmed that 11 tenants were evacuated from all adjacent apartments located within the building, according to Capt. Mike Wilson, Columbus Fire Department spokesman.

Firefighters arrived and quickly circled the 6-unit, single-story building to size up the incident. Crews discovered light smoke coming from one of the apartments, and also from a ventilation fan located on the roof top. Armed with a water can fire extinguisher, firefighters made entry to the apartment and encountered high heat and smoke. As a search was being conducted, additional crews began to arrive on the scene. As the entry team entered the kitchen, firefighters found flames located on the stove and quickly extinguished the fire. After confirming the fire was out,  the entry crew continued to search through the apartment. No occupants were located inside, Wilson said.

Outside the apartment, a ventilation team set up a high power ventilation fan.  Interior crew firefighters determined that the fire had been contained to the kitchen and that flames were fully extinguished. The interior crew focused on opening windows to aid in evacuating smoke from the apartment. Coordinating with crews on the exterior, the interior team requested that the ventilation fan be activated. Within minutes the smoke was cleared form the apartment, Wilson said.

Columbus Fire Department investigator Matt Noblitt said that the occupant of the apartment was not at home when the fire occurred. Noblitt learned that the tenant had briefly left the apartment and upon returning home discovered smoke after opening the door. The tenant told investigators that she had been cooking prior to leaving the apartment and thought that she had turned the stove off.  The tenant told investigators that she attempted to put out the flames, but the smoke and heat pushed her back. After exiting the apartment she asked a neighbor to call 911. The tenant was treated for smoke inhalation by Columbus Regional Health EMS at the scene. After being assessed, the tenant refused transport to the hospital. The tenant told firefighters that she has renters insurance, Wilson said.

Investigators determined that the cause of the fire was accidental due to unattended cooking. The apartment’s kitchen sustained significant smoke and fire damage. Additional smoke damage was seen throughout the apartment. Damages are estimated at $15,000 for structure and contents, Wilson said.

No working smoke alarms were found in the apartment. A female tenant and her adult son reside in the apartment. Due to the damage and current condition of the apartment, the tenants will be displaced. The Salvation Army is providing victim assistance to the family at this time. Nine tenants were allowed to return to their apartments, Wilson said.

Agencies that assisted at the scene included the Columbus Police Department, Columbus Regional Health EMS and the Salvation Army.

Cooking fires are the number one cause of residential fire and fire-related injury, Wilson said. The Columbus Fire Department offers these cooking safety tips:

  • Stay in the kitchen if you are actively cooking on a stove top.
  • Keep combustible items – such as towels, paper products and pot holders – away from a hot stove.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher near the kitchen ensuring you can access it without placing yourself in harms way.
  • If you can’t safety extinguish the fire, get out and call 911.
  • Always have working smoke alarms inside your home.
  • Plan and practice a home fire escape drill: Know two ways out of every room. Crawl on the floor to escape dangerous smoke. Have an outside safe meeting place designated for the entire family. Once you get out, stay out. Never return inside a burning building.