MATTOON — Sunrise Apartments residents are no longer homeless, but many say they still need help.

The American Red Cross Branch Office of Coles and Clark counties is accepting cash donations to assist 26 displaced residents, from 20 damaged apartment units, now living with relatives and friends.

Donors with clothing or other necessities can contact the Sunrise Apartments office to determine the best way they can help the fire victims.

“The best way to donate money for them is to write out a check to the American Red Cross and put ‘Sunrise Apartments’ in the subject line. That way the money will go to direct relief for them,” said Red Cross office manager Valerie Karr.

The Red Cross can be contacted at 345-5166. Those interested should confirm their donation on other items with Sunrise Apartments at 235-7707 before dropping off any items. This could eliminate unneeded donations or problems with transporting items.

Mattoon Fire Chief Mike Chism said the cause of the fire is still under investigation with work coordinated by the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s office.

“We’re extremely fortunate no one else was hurt. The alarm system worked. With a fire of this magnitude you would expect more injuries,” said Chism. “This is going to be a high-dollar damage estimate. It will be in the hundreds of thousands.”

Chism said separate fire walls dividing the apartment complex into three sections helped check the spread the fire. They probably saved lives as well.

“Those firewalls go to the peak of the roof. That helps us fight the fire,” Chism said.

Firefighters were assisted by Mattoon police officers after the 1:34 a.m. fire alert Monday.

“The police did a great job getting people out of the two sections (east and center). And the maintenance people really helped, too,” Chism said.

About the only setback for Mattoon Fire Department came when Captain Mitch Strader suffered a wrist injury Monday morning. He required medical treatment, but no fracture was reported.

By attacking the fire from the north and south, firefighters were able to keep the flames in check. Firefighters were inside the apartments to fight the blaze and also monitor the spread of the fire.

With smoke spreading, the order came to evacuate the far west section of the B Building located on the northeast corner of the apartment property on South Ninth Street by Arland Williams Jr. Elementary School.

“They never really were in danger in that section. But out of precaution we decided to get them out. With the weather we were concerned for everyone being forced out. We had ice rink conditions out there. It was only 4 degrees and everything was freezing up,” Chism explained.

Evacuees were sent to a community room at the office complex to keep them warm and safe. Later, residents sought shelter with family members or friends, and some were housed in a temporary Red Cross shelter at First Presbyterian Church in Mattoon. That shelter closed Monday night.

Sunrise Apartments is a privately owned complex offering assisted housing through government programs. As one volunteer assisting the victims said, “Some of these people didn’t have much of their own, but they still could use some help.”

Contact Herb Meeker at hmeeker@jg-tc.com or 238-6869.

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