A fire in Harlan, Iowa, on Wednesday night started after a cigarette-lighting attempt went bad, the local fire chief said Thursday.
An apartment resident attempted to light a cigarette with a butane lighter, said Chief Roger Bissen of the Harlan Fire Department.
“He said it flared up on him and he tossed it, and it kind of rolled across the room and ended up catching the house on fire,” Bissen said.
The subsequent blaze injured the man, displaced eight residents and destroyed the 102-year-old Nielsen Apartments. The fire has been determined to be an accident.
About 6:05 p.m., the man called 911 while trying to put out the fire, Bissen said. The first units arrived about five minutes later.
Firefighters tried to enter the first-floor apartment but found that flames had already spread to the second floor, forcing the firefighters into a defensive mode.
More than 100 firefighters from several agencies responded, remaining at the scene past 3:45 a.m. Thursday.
The man, who suffered from smoke inhalation, was treated at Myrtue Medical Center in Harlan and later released.
The roof of the apartment building collapsed, and only the four outer walls remained standing, Bissen said.
Four volunteers from the American Red Cross provided food, clothing and shelter to the displaced residents, said Liz Dorland Straub, a Red Cross spokeswoman.
The eight-unit apartment house, at 707 Durant St., was between the Harlan City Hall and a business in the former Public Library.
Harlan is in Shelby County in western Iowa, about 50 miles northeast of Omaha.
Mike Brownlee of the World-Herald News Service contributed to this report.
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