Apartment smoking ban resurfaces after Belleuve building fire

Published: Mar. 22, 2021 at 4:44 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - No charges will be filed in the weekend fire that destroyed a Bellevue apartment building and put 12 families out of their homes.

The Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office says the cause of the fire was smoking materials carelessly thrown away.

This is exactly what Bellevue City Councilmember Don Preister was trying to avoid.

“What my legislation would have done was ban all smoking in apartments, multi-family dwellings and it would have banned grills that people use to grill on those decks,” said Preister.

He made that proposal back in 2016 after two fires less than a week apart, both caused by careless disposal of smoking materials in the same apartment complex. Preister’s proposal would have banned smoking in all Bellevue multi-family units, the city council voted it down.

“The reason people used was we should let the private sector, the marketplace, make the decision. Let’s educate the apartment owners, let them do it voluntarily,” said Preister.

He says some Bellevue apartment owners did change over to smoke-free communities. Careless disposal of tobacco products has been to blame for many apartment fires throughout the Omaha-metro over the years.

“There’s also a survey that shows that around 84% of young adults ages 19 to 25 prefer living in a smoke-free apartment building and environment,” said Lucia Rodriguez, Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition.

Bellevue Councilmember Preister says he would like to see his proposal to ban smoking in apartment buildings come back but this time on a statewide level.

“It would be better on a larger scale but I am certainly open if the council and the mayor and the fire department, other people but I can’t do it by myself. So I can certainly raise the issue,” said Preister.

Bellevue Fire Department officials say the fire-damaged building is inhabitable and will have to be demolished.

Also, the American Red Cross put two families in a hotel after the fire and other tenants had a place to stay and were provided some financial assistance to address immediate needs. The Red Cross didn’t clarify how many people they have helped.

The displaced family was grateful to retrieve some of their pets on Sunday. They had called firefighters when they saw one of their missing casts looking out their apartment window that night.

A team opened the fence, entered the building, and brought out Gracie who Kaycee had since college.

Firefighters even brought out their living beta fish. Ty Richardson says his family feels almost whole again and makes their recovery a whole lot easier.

“This makes it exponentially because I know the other two members of our family are alive,” said Richardson.

Firefighters couldn’t find their second black and white cat inside but the family thinks he ran away. So they will be checking social media and animal shelters.

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