Fire could’ve been a disaster had luck not played a role

There had already been a bad house fire on the Range this past week that ended up claiming the lives of two adults and their two grandchildren. It was a heartbreaking story, especially over the holidays.
When the fire whistle went off around 5 p.m. Wednesday, we wondered if it was our community’s turn to face tragedy. Or was it a chimney fire or a false alarm?
The fire trucks headed for Grahek Apartments where black smoke was pouring out of a window on the east side of the building on the third floor.
The Ely fire department has a Hummer truck that carries 250 gallons of water on it. The truck was able to drive up next to the building, right under where the fire was burning. Water was sprayed through the window and within minutes, the fire was out. Those 250 gallons saved lives as well as the building.
The 911 calls came in around 5 p.m. What if this had happened at 2 a.m.? How long would the fire have burned? Grahek Apartments has an alarm system but no sprinklers. It was impressive when it was built but now is showing its age. How fast would that building have burned if not for the first response and the 250 gallons of water?
Call it luck, call it divine intervention but let’s all be thankful that it turned out to be over just when it started. A life was lost along the way. We expect to know more about what happened when the fire marshal’s office completes the investigation.
Once the residents were transported to Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital, the level of fear and panic dropped to nothing. They were safe and warm with cups of hot coffee being served in the cafeteria. Most made their own way across the icy parking lot to the hospital, some were brought via the bus from the Boundary Waters Care Center.
But what would have happened if this had occurred at Pioneer Apartments and the temp was hovering at -17 degrees? Transportation would have been a much bigger concern. We know now that plans are either in place or being put in place to make sure school busses can be accessed day or night to move dozens of people at a moment’s notice.
Fire, police and ambulance departments spend time throughout the year practicing for different scenarios. A fire and/or mass casualties at a three story building is one of them. The Ely fire chief also credited the management at Grahek Apartments for having plans in place in case a fire were to occur.
Our thanks to all of the first responders who participated in Wednesday’s event. We’re glad luck was on the side of the 40 people who call Grahek Apartments home.
This is also a reminder to all of us to make sure the smoke detectors in our homes are in working order. And that we have a plan on how to get out of the house and where to meet afterwards should a fire occur.
Winter is just beginning and there’s likely to be a few more times our firefighters and first responders will be asked to save the day. Our hope is we continue to have luck on our side.