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UPDATED: Suspicious Fire Destroys Cahokia Apt. Building

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7/16/12-Firefighters from more than a half dozen Metro East departments helped douse a blaze that broke out in an apartment building at 565 Mildred Ave. in Cahokia early Monday. Investigators are working to determine if the fire was intentionally set after reports of a violent domestic dispute at the site over the weekend. (KMOX/Brett Blume)

7/16/12-Firefighters from more than a half dozen Metro East departments helped douse a blaze that broke out in an apartment building at 565 Mildred Ave. in Cahokia early Monday. Investigators are working to determine if the fire was intentionally set after reports of a violent domestic dispute at the site over the weekend. (KMOX/Brett Blume)

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Updated @ 9 a.m.

CAHOKIA, Ill. (KMOX) –  Fire officials in Cahokia will work to determine whether a fire that heavily damaged an apartment building at 565 Mildred Ave. was intentionally set.

Asst. Fire Chief Stephen Robbins isn’t ready to call it a case of arson just yet.

“It’s way too early in the investigation to start pointing fingers,” Robbins said as crews doused the last of the flames. “Far too early to go to the accidental/intentional side of it just yet.”

But resident Drew Johnson, who stayed in a lower-floor apartment and only managed to escape the burning building when frantic passers-by pounded on his door and told him that flames were shooting from upper-floor windows, has a theory as to what happened.

He says Cahokia police had to be called to the converted church Friday when a couple that lives above him, who apparently have a history of domestic disturbances, got into a fight so bad that at one point a woman smashed out the windshield of her husband’s car.

She then left with the couple’s children while the male occupant stayed behind, and Johnson saw that same man loading his belongings into a car and taking off shortly before the flames broke out.

“You could hear this stuff being bounced around and thrown around upstairs,” Johnson related at the scene. “He was moving his belongings out, tires and all, to his car. And then all of a sudden the house is on fire? That’s not a coincidence.”

After initial concerns that there were residents trapped in the burning two-story structure, it was quickly determined that the five or six people inside the apartments at the time were able to get out and no injuries were reported.

Seven departments from throughout the region eventually provided mutual aid to Cahokia fire to knock down the flames, although at one point the fire horn was sounded loudly to let firefighters inside know to get out right away because the roof was sagging.

About half of the structure suffered smoke, fire and water damage.

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The cause is under investigation.

OUR EARLIER STORY:

Fire fighters from Cahokia and some of the surrounding towns now have that apartment complex fire at  565 Mildred in Cahokia under control.  One and possibly two apartment units went up ion flames shortly after six this morning.  KMOX’s Capt. Roger Brand who flew over the blaze said the fire had broken through the roof of the structure.

People living in the 5 apartments were able to get out without injury.  Arson investigators will be called in reportedly based on statements made by some tenants.   It appears two and possible three apartment are a total loss.

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