Investigator: Child playing with lighter started apartment blaze

2013-09-13T21:00:00Z 2015-01-22T15:36:13Z Investigator: Child playing with lighter started apartment blazeBy JONATHAN EDWARDS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

A fire trapped Mikey Reich on the second story of his north Lincoln apartment building Friday afternoon, so he jumped to escape the flames.

Reich, 38, had been filing for unemployment on his computer when someone pounded hard on his door. Reich ignored it at first, but on second thought, decided it sounded serious.

So Reich walked toward the door. He smelled smoke. Then a little more.

He opened the front door of his apartment and discovered a fire that would rage through and gut the apartments, vexing firefighters for two hours as they attacked the blaze from the air and ground.

Reich tossed his keys and his shoes down, lowered himself down as much as he could before letting go and dropped onto Butch Spiegel, his downstairs neighbor.

“After you realize what’s going on, you don’t have time to think,” Reich said.

The fire started at about 1:45 p.m. and torched many of the second-story apartments of a 14-unit complex at 3730 N. 48th St., Lincoln Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Tim Linke said.

A child playing with a lighter in a bedroom set fire to a blanket, city fire investigator Ken Hilger said. Forty-five minutes later, heavy smoke and flames could be seen shooting from the building.

Officials closed 48th Street from Cornhusker Highway to Fremont Street as crews tackled the fire, clogging nearby streets through rush hour.

The fire caused about $250,000 in structural damage, close to the total value of the building. The fire also caused $200,000 damage to items inside. The complex was built in 1965 and spans 21,100 square feet.

Tonya Hillman, Spiegel’s girlfriend, was also on her computer at 1:45 when she heard a noise and looked out her back door toward the deck to check it out. It looked like a woman was stomping something, maybe a grill, Hillman said.

Hillman didn’t think much of it until debris started raining down in front of her apartment a little while later. She went out the front door to inspect.

“The whole corner was on fire,” she said.

She told her roommate to call 911, got one of her three cats and bolted.

Mia, a 4-year-old calico, lay quietly in her crate. Hillman said then her two other cats didn’t make it out of the building: Smokey, a 13-year-old male, and Patches, a farm cat they got about five years ago.

“We probably lost our two cats,” she said.

But at least one of them hadn’t spent all nine lives. Firefighters searched her apartment and at about 4:30, they hailed Linke to let him know they’d found a cat but were having trouble coaxing it out from underneath the bed.

“The cat is in there and visibly alive,” a firefighter said.

Firefighters continued to look for the third cat, Linke said.

Fortunately, Reich didn't need any spare lives to survive. About five minutes after Hillman and Spiegel escaped the fire, Spiegel spotted Reich on the second-floor balcony, trapped by fire.

Spiegel rushed over directly below him.

“I just said, ‘Jump! I’ll catch ya!’”

Reach Jonathan Edwards at 402-473-7395 or jedwards@journalstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/LJSedwards.

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