Residents in a Mount Jackson apartment building escaped a fire Monday night that forced them from their homes.

Deputy Chief Bill Streett of the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue said Tuesday in a phone interview that the fire started in one apartment at approximately 8 p.m. in the building at 5919 Main St., Mount Jackson.  Rescue workers on the scene took a resident living in one of the upstairs apartments to Shenandoah Memorial Hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.

Shenandoah County Fire Marshal David Ferguson determined that the fire started accidentally when an occupant in an apartment unknowingly knocked over a burning candle in the living room while walking to the bathroom, Streett said. When the occupant came out of the bathroom, he saw the living room on fire.

The tenant’s pet cat perished from the smoke, Streett said. The tenant apparently tried to find the cat but could not do so before the fire forced him to flee, Streett said. Firefighters found the cat after they put out the blaze but the animal had not survived, Streett added.

“He did try to make an effort to locate his cat and, in the process of that, obviously the fire grew in intensity and size and he realized at that point in time the fire was beyond anything he could control, and he safely exited the apartment complex,” Streett said. “On his way out of the apartment complex, he did notify other tenants in the building there was a fire so he really helped us out in terms of making sure that the building was safely evacuated prior to the fire department’s arrival.”

Streett said he did not know the name of the man who alerted fellow tenants to the fire.

“It’s unfortunate that a pet did succumb to the smoke conditions,” Streett said. “This became a survivable fire for the people involved and that had to do with a couple of factors: the fact that the occupant did escape the building and dial 911 and not try to take matters into their own hands to suppress the fire; the fact that there were smoke detectors throughout the apartment complex so those smoke detectors started to go off and that enabled the other occupants to know that there was a problem.

“And, again, the tenant did make the step to knock on doors to communicate that there was a fire in the building,” Streett added.

The building located near older structures in Mount Jackson has only one way in or out to access the upstairs apartments, Streett explained.

Dispatchers at the Shenandoah County Emergency Communications Center received a call at 8:40 p.m. of a fire in apartment 3 in a building at 5919 Main St., Mount Jackson. The two-story building has a thrift store on the ground level and six apartments on the second floor.

The first crew on the scene, from Mount Jackson Rescue and Fire, arrived at 8:51 p.m., Streett said, citing dispatch records.

Firefighters reported seeing “normal conditions” outside the building, Streett said. A couple of minutes later, the conditions changed and firefighters began pulling hoses to the second floor where they encountered heavy smoke, Streett said. Crews brought the fire under control at 9:31 p.m. Firefighters kept the blaze from spreading from apartment 3 where the fire apparently had started, Streett said. The last crew left the scene at 10:42 p.m.

At the time of the incident, two of the six apartments were occupied, Streett said. The building is uninhabitable as a result of the smoke that spread from the point of origin to the rest of the structure, Streett said. The store sustained water damage.

Streett said  that workers from the local chapter of the American Red Cross came to help the several residents displaced by the fire find temporary housing.

Streett warned of the dangers of leaving lit candles unattended.

“This is an example of where an honest accident can occur and so they do pose dangers,” Streett said. “There’s no such thing as a fire-proof candle and I think in this instance the greater message is really about the fact that smoke detectors save lives, and as we approach the Fire Prevention Week here in the first part of November it’s a reminder for folks to check their smoke detectors and change the batteries and make sure they’re operational.

Daylight savings time ends this weekend and clocks are set back one hour.

Mount Jackson Rescue and Fire, New Market Fire and Rescue, the Edinburg Fire Department, the Woodstock Fire Department, Orkney Springs Fire and Rescue, Conicville Fire Department and the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue responded to the incident. The Mount Jackson Police Department and the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office assisted with traffic control. A representative from the Mount Jackson Department of Public Works also responded to the incident because crews used the town’s hydrant system.

– Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com