Updated: 03/24/2014 7:35 AM
Created: 03/23/2014 11:03 AM KSTP.com
By: Stephen Tellier
Dozens of Anoka residents were forced out of their homes after a fire damaged an apartment building.
The fire happened Saturday morning at the Lincoln Estate Apartments on Ninth Lane in Anoka. No one was injured, but all 42 units are currently empty, and the building is padlocked. On Sunday night, it was still unclear exactly when many of those families would be able return home.
One of the victims, Michael Hiatt, is staying at a nearby hotel, for now. He's putting on a strong face for his 7-year-old son.
"He doesn't understand the gravity of things," Hiatt said.
His father does. He knows they've lost a lot, and may have lost their home.
"That's scary -- thinking about starting the race over. That's terrifying," Hiatt said.
Investigators said the fire likely started in the building's mechanical room. It spread from there, and severely damaged three units. At least a few other units suffered smoke damage.
Hiatt and his son were inside one of the damaged apartments when the fire began.
"What's really funny is, we were watching 'Kindergarten Cop' at the same time, and they were going through a fire drill," Hiatt said.
Moments later, it was no drill.
"I opened the door, and it (the hallway) was full of smoke. I told him to get my wallet, quick," Hiatt said.
The two ran outside.
"It's 14 degrees. I have no shirt on, just a jacket. Neither of us have socks. He's in shorts," Hiatt said.
They bought clothes. Then on Saturday afternoon, crews briefly let Hiatt inside to grab a few belongings. That's when he realized the extent of the damage.
"This whole storage closet is trashed. You look up, you see the sky," Hiatt said. "Bathroom, hole in the wall. You can see kind of a boiler fixture. Everything's gone there."
He's been told they can't return until Tuesday, at the earliest. He's concerned they may not be able to return to their apartment at all. But he's not dwelling on that.
"You're just thankful that you're worrying about material things other than things that really matter," Hiatt said. "I think if we all just stay positive and move forward, that's all we can do. Start over, and do what you have to do."
The American Red Cross said they've helped at least 50 people like the Hiatts who have been displaced with food, clothing, and medical needs. Apartment management is paying for hotel rooms for most of the affected residents.
Investigators said the main reason residents can't return to their apartments yet is that the boilers were damaged, and need to be replaced. No working boilers means no heat.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.