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Blaze at Edgerton complex displaces seniors

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
May 30, 2012
— Barbara Walberg took a shaky breath from her oxygen tank as she recounted the minutes leading up to a fire that ravaged her Edgerton apartment complex Monday evening.

She was on the computer in her apartment when she said she heard an ear-splitting bang and then felt a jolt of electricity go through her computer's mouse.


"It made me drop my mouse," said Walberg. "I thought, 'What the heck was that?'"


A few minutes later, her apartment neighbors were banging on her door to tell to her to evacuate. The roof of the apartment building was in flames.


Walberg is one of two dozen elderly residents at Edgewood Glen Senior Living Community in Edgerton who will be displaced for up to four months after a fire Monday collapsed the roof and damaged many of the 21 units at the complex, apartment management said Tuesday.


Walberg and other residents at the two-story complex at 105 Thronson Drive believe that a lightning strike caused the fire at about 6:30 p.m. Monday.


Stan Jenson, a 12-year resident at the apartment complex, also heard the bang Monday and then saw smoke. At first, he thought residents up the street were burning something.


"I didn't expect this, I'll tell you that," Jenson said, looking over at the gaping hole in the building's roof.


Jenson, 97, was leaning on a walker outside the apartments Tuesday afternoon, waiting for apartment management to let in his son Norm to retrieve keys, a toothbrush and some coins from his unit on the first floor.


Jenson's apartment was damaged by water and smoke, officials said.


The Edgerton Fire Department and Wisconsin Office of the State Fire Marshal were investigating the fire Tuesday and inspecting the building.


Fire Chief Brian Demrow said officials didn't have a concrete cause for the blaze, but he said investigators were working with the National Weather Service to determine if a lightning strike could have caused it.


No one was hurt in the fire, but utilities are cut at the complex. None of the 24 residents will be allowed to move back in pending a rehabilitation project that could take three or four months, the apartments' management said.


The complex has fire damage to the roof and trusses and significant smoke and water damage on both floors. The cost of damages still was unclear Tuesday.


"It won't be known for days," Demrow said.


Dave Witcraft, president of Minneapolis-based Metes and Bounds Management, which owns the apartment complex, on Tuesday said the company was taking stock of the damage and letting residents in to retrieve belongings.


The company plans shore up the caved-in roof with temporary trusses this week, and fire remediation crews already have started to scour the complex of smoke and water damage.


The company is working with the Red Cross, the Edgerton Housing Authority and state officials to find temporary living arrangements for displaced residents, Witcraft said, although he noted most appear to be staying with family nearby.


For instance, Jenson and Walberg are staying with family in Janesville.


Walberg had just moved into the apartments two months ago after selling the rural Edgerton farm she'd owned for 42 years.


"I was just getting to know everyone here," she said.


Witcraft said his company owns apartments in Elkhorn, Fort Atkinson and Cottage Grove, and it could offer some units there for displaced residents.


He said the company also would work with tenants who could want to sever their lease at the damaged apartments. The apartments get a federal low-income subsidy for residents, and many there are on a fixed income.


Some likely didn't have renter's insurance, company management indicated.


"We're going to be very open. We've got options," Witcraft said.


Apartment resident Ruth Butterfield was amazed no one got hurt in the blaze.


Butterfield was standing in as the apartments' manager Monday while the management was away on vacation. She had alerted residents of the fire and helped with evacuations before fire crews from Edgerton and a dozen other communities arrived.


"I'm just glad everyone's alive and safe. I keep thinking about that. It's all that counts," she said.



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