MILWAUKEE — A 72-year-old man is dead, and another person is injured, after an early morning fire at a large apartment building on Milwaukee’s south side.
Investigators say the fire at the Burnham Hill Apartments, on South 29th Street near West Mitchell Street, started in an apartment on the third floor.
TMJ4 News talked with four men, all veterans, who made it out of the building safely. They are among at least 84 people who lived there and are now being helped by The American Red Cross. They woke up around midnight to a fire alarm, and firefighters banging on their doors.
“They told me I needed to get out, so I put on shoes, grabbed a jacket and my wallet, and got out,” said Randy Jackson. “I was terrified.”
“The firefighter looked at me and said, get out fast,” said Bobby Montgomery. “There was really no time to think or grab anything.”
“Those firefighters helped us get out safely,” Jackson said. “There was water and smoke inside the hallways. When I got out and turned around, I saw black, thick smoke coming from a window, and I knew whoever lived in that unit didn’t get out.”
“We learned he didn’t make it,” Montgomery said.
The family of the 72-year-old victim identified him as Nathaniel Beal, a beloved father and grandfather.
His neighbors describe him as a great friend, who they affectionately called “Pops.”
“In the summertime, we'd sit out and barbecue,” Montgomery said. “It’s sad. You really never know when your last day will be.”
“He was a very loving, caring man,” said Freeman Vaughn. “He was a good friend. We talked about a lot of things. I had so much respect for him, because he was confined to a wheelchair, but never once let that stop him from doing anything. He was always independent.”
“We’re going to hold on to the memories,” Jackson said. “He was a good guy, had a lot of friends. He will be missed.”
While these men feel lucky to be alive, they only made it out with the clothes on their backs. They aren’t sure where they’ll go from here.
“My whole life it just went from something to nothing,” Vaughn said.
“Basically, I'm starting all over again at ground zero because everything I had was in that apartment,” said Carrall Martin. “I can’t help but be depressed. I really don’t have any family left and I’m 70-years-old, how am I going to rebuild after this?”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. We are still waiting to learn the conditions of a couple residents who were reported to have injuries.
Red Cross disaster volunteers are providing temporary lodging at local hotels and meals. They are also assessing immediate health needs such as replacement medications/prescriptions. They are working through the property roster to make sure they’ve connected with all residents in need of assistance.