JULY 3, 1973

A 29-year-old Lewiston man died and two other men were hospitalized with burns received in an early morning fire that destroyed 10 units at Hillcrest Apartments, 501 Airway Ave., yesterday.  Dead is George S. Gustafson who lived in apartment 37.

Injured are William Gordon, 19, and Paul Bartlett, 20, residents of apartment 33.  Gordon received burns on his hands and Bartlett received burns on his back and a separated left shoulder.  He received the shoulder injury when he fell downstairs while attempting to escape the flames.

Damage to the apartments was estimated at $250,000 by Vernon Dimke, 2333 Florence Lane, Clarkston, owner and builder of the apartments.   Dimke said he based his estimate on the square footage of the demolished units and added: “I think I’ve got adequate insurance.”

Besides the 10 units destroyed by fire, at least 10 more of the 40 apartments in the two-story complex received heavy smoke and water damage.  A recreation area on the ground floor of the complex was also extensively damaged by smoke and water.

Assistant Fire Chief Charles Hyde said the alarm was called in at 3:29 a.m. by Mike Fitzpatrick, who lived at the apartments.  Another call was received at 3:30 a.m. from Mrs. Perry Proctor, also a resident of the apartments.  Two engines were dispatched to the fire at first, but four more were sent to the scene before the first two had arrived, Hyde said.  When firemen arrived the east end of the wood and cement structure was engulfed in flames, Hyde said.   Tenants of the apartment house were emptying into the parking area in front of the building, firemen said, but a search of each apartment was made prior to turning to fighting the fire.  “The first thing  a fireman has to do at a fire scene is protect human life,” Hyde said.  “If the building is lost, but all the people are saved, firemen have done their job.  If the building is also saved, that is a hard-won bonus.”

While two of the first four firemen began organizing searches of the 29 apartments directly endangered by the fire, a second crew of two fire fighters began pumping high-pressure water into the apartment occupied by Gustafson.  Flames in the apartment had to be knocked down before firemen could check it out.  Gustafson’s body was found near a bedroom door.

Fire investigators said the cause of the blaze is not known, but the fire is believed to have started in or near Gustafson’s apartment.  Six pieces of fire-fighting equipment, including the 90-foot platform truck were dispatched to the fire.  Hyde said cars parked in front of the apartment prevented use of the platform truck.  The blaze was controlled by

5 a.m. by 22 regular firemen and numerous volunteers.  The fire was completely out by 6 a.m.  Credit was given by Hyde to several tenants of the building for their part in waking other tenants and getting them out of the building.  Several persons reported other tenants breaking their doors in and helping them out just ahead of the fast-moving fire.  Firemen said that at the time fire in the area of Gustafson’s apartment was knocked down, flames sprang out in the center of the complex nearly 100 feet away.  The fire had burned through one fire wall and had progressed along a common attic-way, Hyde said.  “When oxygen was supplied by the fire burning through near the roof of the complex’s center, the fire broke out all over.”  Problems encountered by firemen included insufficient water pressure from fire hydrants, keeping persons from returning to their apartments, lack of access to the rear of the building and persons attempting to tell firemen how to fight the fire.

Apartments destroyed were numbers 29 through 38.  Those apartments were occupied by 17 persons.  Randy Schrader, Apt. 32, said he, his wife and 14-month-old son were asleep when someone began breaking in the front door of his apartment.  “I woke up and knew there was a fire,” Schrader said.  “I ran to the front of the apartment and saw nothing but flames.  We escaped by going onto a deck shared by apartment 31 and leaving through the front door of that apartment.”

Lewiston City Manager Armand Werle said at the scene of the fire yesterday that the apartment met building standards at the time it was constructed in August 1970.  Werle said the building wouldn’t meet current city code specifications because there are no fire walls between each apartment unit.

Gustafson was the eighth Lewiston resident to die in a fire in the past 12 months.  The National Red Cross notified the Lewis-Clark chapter of its organization yesterday that a field investigation team will arrive here tomorrow to interview persons left homeless by the fire.  David G. Bellemere, executive director of that chapter, said interviews will be conducted at the Hillcrest Apartments beginning about 9 a.m.  Persons found to qualify for assistance will be aided by the Red Cross, Bellemere said.

Gustafson was born Sept. 12, 1943 at Spokane, the son of Mr. and  Mrs. Ardie G. Gustafson, 1421 Prospect Ave.  His father is a former Lewiston mayor.  After graduating from Lewiston High School in 1961, he entered the army and was stationed with the 8th  Medical Evacuation Unit at Landstuhl, Germany, from 1962 to 1965.  In 1963, Gustafson’s unit was sent to Yugoslavia to provide medical assistance after a disastrous earthquake.  Also in 1963, he toured Europe with his parents while they were on a business trip to the continent.  After his discharge from the army, Gustafson attended Kinman Business University at Spokane in 1966-67, and the University of Idaho in 1967-68.

Before joining Hahn Supply as a salesman two years ago, he had been employed by B&C Meats and by Western Valley Seed Co., operated by his father.  Gustafson married the former Lorraine Roseborough Sept. 20, 1971.  They were divorced this year.  He was a communicant of the Church of  the Nativity (Episcopal) and a member of the Lewiston Elks Lodge.

In addition to his parents, he is survived by a brother, Frans V. Gustafson, and a sister, Mrs. Laurel Sarbacher, both of Lewiston.

The funeral will be Friday morning at 10 at the Church of the Nativity with the Rev. F. Spaulding Howe, rector of St. Peter’s Church of Pomeroy, as officiant.  Burial will be at Normal Hill Cemetery with Brower-Wann Funeral Home in charge.  The family has suggested memorials to a favorite charity.