Firefighters were called to the 5600 block of S. Adams St. around 1:30 p.m. for a building fire. When they arrived, flames were bursting through the roof, multiple feet into the air. The building was nearly 100 years old, serving as a boarding house for seven low income tenants. It's now expected that the building will be torn down.
Jessica Casagrandre lived in the boarding house with her boyfriend.
"I didn't even realize that the bottom of my feet were burning. I was just-- I couldn't see anything. There was smoke everywhere," Casagrande said.
Casagrande and her boyfriend, William Alexander, watched as flames scorched through their home. Alexander has lived in the building for three years, and said he built a lot of memories inside. Now, he's hoping to salvage some of his belongings.
"Just gonna play it by ear. You know, just wait and see what happens. Um, hopefully I can get some of our belongings out," he said.
The initial emergency call was made at 1:32 p.m., according to the Bartonville fire department. Linda Witter, of Peoria, was shopping in a nearby store and watched the fire from beginning to end. She said it started in nearby bushes, and quickly spread to the walls and through the roof. Bartonville fire chief Mike Cheatham thinks careless use of a grill may have caused the fire.
"It went kinda fast. It went kinda fast. Because it just went right through the wall and to the roof and broke through the roof," Witter said.
At one point, Witter saw a man trapped on the second floor, until he made a desperate attempt to escape.
"I saw a man throw himself around, start to go out the window, and then he just fell out the window to the ground," she said.
Authorities said the jumper broke his leg and was taken to a local hospital.
Witter and other witnesses said it seemed like forever before help arrived. She was "surprised" how long it took authorities to arrive on the scene. Cheatham said first responders arrived no more than four minutes after receiving the call. Multiple other fire and rescue crews were called to assist shortly after.
Troy Lane, a bar tender in a bar next door, said he, too, noticed a delay. He knows some of the tenants and believed they were running out of time. So, he took matters into his own hands.
"By that time it was escalating up the side of the building and uh, basically I just ran inside and beat on a few doors, woke some people up and got them out," Lane said.
We're told all of the tenants and multiple pets got out safely, including Casagrande and Alexander. Both are happy to be alive, but Casagrande said the fire couldn't come at a worse time in her life.
"It's just been two months since I've been off the streets, and here I am again. If feels like whenever something good happens, something bad has to happen to," she said.
The American Red Cross was on the scene and will provide shelter for at least three days. But after that, the residents could be on their own, and possibly without a place to stay.