Mother's Day in Marysville started like a scene right out of a movie.
"It's almost surreal. It's one of those things you know can happen. But the fact that it's happening in front of you, it's almost hard to believe," said Marysville Fire Chief Jay Riley.
But the fire that broke out at the Windsor High Rise apartments about 1 a.m. May 11 was very real, and residents from 45 assisted living units still can't get back into their homes. A week later, many are still relying on the American Red Cross for help.
Marysville police officers arrived first and began to clear people from the building, 207 Windsor Court.
"Initially, the residents just set up in the lobby because they didn't realize how big the scope was. So they're having them come out, and they're kind of milling around," Riley said.
When firefighters arrived, fog and heavy smoke blanketed the area and made it hard to see the building, except for the flames.
Firefighters saw residents still inside, banging on windows or yelling through open windows to get them out.
"The fire is behind them. There was heavy smoke billowing over their heads. We were able to get on ladders and get people out on both sides of the building," Riley said.
Firefighters rescued at least five residents through windows.
Riley said the scene was chaotic.
"People going in a whole bunch of directions, and we're trying to create some type of stability," he said. "We were able to get the community center open and get them inside."
Many of the building's residents rely on oxygen and/or use walkers or wheelchairs. Riley said eight people were taken to Memorial Hospital of Union County for coughing or difficulty breathing.
The three-story building consisted of 47 apartments, 45 of which were occupied. About 100 firefighters were on the scene of the four-alarm fire, including mutual aid from several other local departments. The fire took two hours to contain, and crews stayed on the scene until 11:30 a.m.
Riley said it was fortunate no firefighters were injured and no residents were seriously hurt.
According to investigators, the fire started on a couch in apartment 20-H and spread from the second floor to the roof. Officials said the building is heavily damaged and its fate is uncertain.
The Red Cross brought in 40 volunteers over four days to aid residents. The agency served 41 people at a cost of more than $10,000, according to Julie Frim, disaster program specialist.
"We've provided clothing, shoes, bedding and linen," Frim said.
Some residents need a place to live and are working with the Salvation Army.
Frim said donations are gladly accepted. The Red Cross in Union County receives part of a regional disaster service budget each year.
"For everyone that continues to donate, we put that in a budget and have it on hand," she said. "A lot of funds are local, so we really depend on that local dollar."
Riley said the fire department plans for disasters such as this and had trained for a scenario at Windsor due to the high number of residents and the lack of sprinklers in the 40-year-old building.
After every fire, the department makes a report of everything that went well and everything it can improve on.
"This is certainly one we're going to take a little time to do," Riley said. "Not only the extinguishing of the fire, but the delivery of human services afterward."
That includes the Red Cross, which helped residents get shelter, and the Union County Health Department, which provided medical assistance.
"We went in Sunday morning and got medications out of their rooms. But some of the rooms were too damaged to get the medications, so Dave's Pharmacy was able to open up," Riley said.
Riley said the fire will help emergency response workers prepare for future disasters.
"This is the first time we've had to open up a shelter like this in Union County, where we were providing medical care at a shelter and not just at the hospital," he said. "I think that this is a great learning tool for us to see how we would do that in the event of a tornado, or flooding or another large fire."