• Photo Showcase: Apartment building fire
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Mandy Plagmann held her little girl's skirt and her baby boy's T-shirt and wept.
Her family was fine but haunted by the fire that Friday evening swept through their apartment building at 9506 S Plaza. The skirt and T-shirt ended up in a nearby parking lot, evidently swept away by firefighters' hoses, and she clutched the wet, filthy items.
Gone were their baby photos and baptism pictures.
“Those are things that I'm never gonna get back,” Plagmann said Saturday while surveying the severely damaged building. “It doesn't matter how much my insurance covers.”
Residents, neighbors, friends and relatives milled about the building, which was encircled by yellow caution tape. A couple who lived in the damaged building in the Applewood Pointe apartment complex hoped to find their cats. The parents of a young man who had been happy to have his first after-college apartment walked around.
“He'll stay with us until he regroups,” said the man's mother, Lori Apgar.
An estimated 80 people evacuated the building Friday. The roof and portions of third- and second-floor ceilings caved in, and Batallion Chief Robb Gottsch said he doubted that the structure could be saved.
The Omaha Fire Department, which fought the blaze for more than three hours Friday night, continued to investigate the fire's cause Saturday.
Asked if the source was a barbecue grill on a deck, as some neighbors believed, Gottsch said, “Could be.”
He said it would be the building managers' responsibility to secure the building after firefighters left and to determine when residents could enter to try to pull out their belongings.
Management representatives declined to comment Saturday.
Christopher Colegrove, 32, who lives in a nearby building, said he ran through the burning structure twice to get people out. He was taken to the hospital because of smoke inhalation but said he returned to the scene before firefighters had put out the blaze.
Colegrove, whose wife had a baby 39 days ago, pounded on walls and doors. One man on the third floor seemed stunned but finally left as the fire worsened. A woman who was shaking wanted to get her dog and cat out, Colegrove said.
“So I grabbed her dog and she grabbed her cat and we both came out,” he said. A woman visiting her mother in a nearby building also made a run through the burning structure.
“Chris was doing most of the work,” said that woman, 29-year-old Rachel Renner.
Mandy Plagmann and her family — her husband, their two children and her mother — were back at the scene Saturday. She had gone swimming with her kids Friday and had just come back to their apartment. A fire alarm went off and a neighbor banged on their door.
Plagmann wrapped her children in towels and they rushed out with her mother, Ana Pliego. They called Plagmann's husband, Brandon Plagmann, who was at work driving a forklift in Council Bluffs. He raced home.
“My first thought was the kids,” he said Saturday. “I didn't really care about the belongings, because they're replaceable.”
The family spent the night in a hotel. The kids had trouble sleeping. They were terrified, their mother said.
Pliego, the children's grandmother, said they would start over. “Fortunately, we are OK,” she said.
She said her granddaughter, 6-year-old Annamia, wanted to go to church to ask God why it happened.
It's hard to explain to a child that life throws these times at you, the grandmother said.
“Yesterday was our turn."
World-Herald staff writer Emerson Clarridge contributed to this report.