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'Everyone walks away alive': Nearby residents evacuated after large apartment fire in downtown Willoughby

Smoke seen on Power of 5 Radar
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Posted at 6:57 AM, Feb 17, 2023

WILLOUGHBY, Ohio — Crews from multiple jurisdictions responded to a large apartment fire on Mentor Avenue just across the river from Downtown Willoughby Friday morning.

The uninhabited apartment building is the Chagrin Riverwalk Apartment complex that was under construction, it was in between the east and west apartment buildings that were fully occuppied. No one was injured during the fire, according to fire officials.

Residents who live in the East and West buildings at Chagrin Riverwalk Apartments awoke to the sound of sirens and the sight of flames.

As a result, the fire and police department began evacuating the neighboring complexes.

"The police department showed up and started knocking on everyone's doors," said resident Ryan Mattila. "We watched the flames and it was very, very, very high. They were so big you see them over this building."

It is unclear how the fire started, but Willoughby Fire Chief Todd Ungar said the call came in around 5:50 a.m. By the time firefighters arrived, the complex, which was under construction between the East and West buildings, was completely engulfed.

"The fire was intense enough that there was nothing we were going to do about that fire," said Unger. "We want to get the people that are most danger out."

The Willoughby Police Department pulled fire alarms in neighboring buildings to help evacuate residents.

Wind in the area as the fire raged was 26 mph, with gusts up to 33 mph, according to News 5 Meteorologist Trent Magill.

"If the wind blew in our direction, because it was blowing in that direction, so it would've blown towards us, I'm sure we would've had more damage than we have," said Mattila.

The siding around Mattila's windows are now burnt off. He and his girlfriend live together and are thankful everything is okay.

"It doesn't surprise me but it amazing because everyone walks away alive and has all their stuff still, it's a good outcome," he said.

Unger said they will be working with Lake County officials to determine the cause of the fire, which is unknown at this time.

The damage appears to be to about a dozen cars in the parking lot of the East building.

Resident Will Grubs, who just recently moved into the building, is looking on the bright side of the scary situation.

"Just really hopeful that everything is OK in this building," he said. "[I'm] staying at a friend's house for a moment, don't really have much other option."

For residences at Chagrin Riverwalk, management is ensuring everyone is okay and will release a statement in the near future. The East building is hopeful to have residents back inside the complex by tonight.

The Mentor Fire Department shared a message on Facebook earlier this morning, asking motorists to avoid Mentor Avenue from Kirtland Road to Downtown Willoughby. The road was reopened Wednesday afternoon around 4 p.m.

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