SPRINGVILLE, N.Y. — 2 On Your Side was first to report that the Erie County Sheriff's Office has charged a Springville resident with arson in connection to an apartment complex fire that happened Monday night.
Deputies arrested and charged Sara Lilley, 36, with a class-B felony of arson in the 2nd degree. Lilley lived in the building that burned down, according to neighbors.
Fire officials said the blaze started just before 10:30 p.m. in the Springbrook Apartment complex on North Buffalo Street in Springville.
One building with four units suffered extensive damage from the fire but remained standing with parts of the roof and wooden structure intact. The building next to it suffered only exterior damage evidenced by a section of siding curled back to show the plywood underneath.
Holly Ortolano said she was watching TV when the fire started. Her apartment in the adjacent building was the closest to the fire.
"I honestly had no idea I was sitting on my couch and I heard a neighbor pounding on my next neighbor's door and I heard her on the phone with 911 and it was a pretty terrifying scene," Ortolano said.
Utilities were shut off to Ortolano's building during the fire so she spent her night at a nearby hotel that was paid for by a friend. Although it was a short stay, she was at the fire until 3:00 a.m.
Joe Buehlmann who also lives in the building next door described the initial panic her heard while he tried to get his son dressed to go out in the cold.
"I heard screaming and I seen a whole bunch of flashing lights and there was a blaze," Buehlmann said.
The late-night fire required the response of more than a dozen volunteer fire departments and resulted in the temporary homelessness of at least six people according to the American Red Cross.
Disaster relief personnel from the Red Cross were at the complex Tuesday to assist those in need of housing, clothing, and medical goods. A spokesperson told 2 On Your Side they met with five of the six people reportedly impacted.
Several community organizations have set up item donation drives for those impacted by the fire including the First Presbyterian Church of Springville.
Clothing and other items can be dropped off at the church on North Buffalo Street Thursday 1/26 from 8 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. as well as on Sunday 1/29 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Monday 1/30 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The Springville and Gowanda Moose Lodges will also be gathering items on Saturday 2/4 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesday 2/1 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. respectively.
The suspect accused of starting the fire, Sara Lilley lived in the end unit closest to the main office neighbors said. She was taken to the Erie County Holding Center pending arraignment the Sheriff's Office said in a press release late Tuesday afternoon.
Springville Volunteer Fire Chief Marc Gentner told 2 On Your Side the night of the fire that he initially called a Mass Casualty Response (MCR) because the scene was chaotic upon arrival. He added with four apartments on fire he was expecting the worst.
"It was like something from a movie. I've never seen it before. Everything was just completely aflame and I was panicking. I tried to move my car and got it stuck in a ditch," said Jaida Balesteri who was staying with her boyfriend at the complex.
Jaida had her car towed from the ditch Tuesday afternoon adding that she was just grateful everyone got out.
"I'm grateful they [fire crews] came as fast as they did," Balesteri said.
In total, Chief Gentner said close to a dozen different volunteer departments responded, with others helping to fill in at empty fire halls. After two searches through the burning apartments, firefighters confirmed that everybody was accounted for, and remarkably there were no injuries.
The complex manager said two cats did perish in the fire.
The fire was fully extinguished and crews began clearing the scene around 2:00 a.m. Tuesday. Little did tenants know that just hours later the Sheriff's Office would make an arrest.
Fire investigators will continue to process the scene and investigate what exactly caused the fire the Erie County Sheriff's Office added.
Detectives are still collecting witness statements and have asked anyone with additional information about the incident to call (716) 858-2903 and refer to CL# 23-005472.