ALLOUEZ - As the rain fell Tuesday at Hilltop Place Apartments, the smell of acrid smoke still hung in the air.
Pieces of people's lives – a green easy chair, a television, a laundry basket – lay out for the world to see, yet unreachable. The building surrounded by chain link fence; posted signs saying ‘No Trespassing' and ‘Hard Hats Required.' Fire investigators in brown jumpsuits and white hard hats could be occasionally seen, taking pictures as they picked through the complex.
More than 100 people were displaced in the massive fire last Thursday in Allouez. The building is a total loss, with damage estimates topping $3 million.
The Green Bay Metro Fire Department says the fire investigation is still ongoing and officials don't expect to pinpoint a cause for some time.
"Right now, the fire is officially categorized as under investigation," explained Lt. Nick Craig, who is the Green Bay Metro Fire Department's public information officer. "And it may be four to six weeks before a final investigation report comes out."
Community lends a hand
"It's not that stuff we're going to miss," said Brian Nuthals of the 51-inch plasma television he bought just a couple weeks ago. "We're going to miss the scrapbooks of the babies growing up."
Nuthals paused, letting out a sigh of overwhelmed emotions.
"That's the stuff I'm going to miss."
Brian Nuthals' girlfriend Dawn Cisler was at home at their apartment in the Hilltop complex with her six and seven-year-old girls when the fire broke out.
"You got yourself and the two kids out; there's nothing more important than getting out with them kids," said Nuthals Tuesday at St. Matthews Church in Allouez. "I don't know what I would do if I didn't have them."
Now all safe, Cisler and Nuthals are trying to fill the holes, picking through the thousands of home goods at the church – open to those affected by the fire.
"I'm without pants," said Nuthals as he filed through stacks of jeans along a wall in the old vacant convent building. "I've got lots of shirts. We've gone through so many clothes and all that stuff that we've actually donated stuff back that we've gotten."
Since Saturday, thousands of items have been rolling in to St. Matthews Catholic Church in Allouez; from shoes to shirts, tops to toys and toiletries.
Hours before the distribution started Tuesday afternoon, parish members behind the effort said they were amazed by the community response.
"Overwhelming, overwhelming," said Penny Dart, the business administrator for the parish and village of Allouez trustee. "We can't get it all sorted, it's just overwhelming."
So many items, Dart had to ask people stop donating things and donate time, instead.
"I would have never guessed that even volunteers. This morning when I got here, there must have been 15 volunteers in the building already," said Dart.
So as Nuthals continued to pick up items in his arms, he looked around the room filled with men's clothing.
"I'm not surprised at all, that this community has pulled through for all of us," he said. "You should be able to wake up with a smile on your face because of what people have done around here. This is awesome."
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