A fire in a storage area at Glenbrook Square set off sprinklers and alarms Saturday, forcing shoppers and employees to evacuate the north-side mall, which was able to reopen several hours later.
Quinten Williams said he was working at the Champs Sports store in the mall when customers and co-workers noticed the smell of something burning.
"I saw smoke coming from the back storage room," he said of the storage area that serves multiple businesses. "And then the sprinkler system started going off."
Williams, 26, said Champs Sports and the nearby Express store filled with thick smoke, which spread into the mall hallway. He said Champs was quickly cleared of shoppers and staff, and the store was closed.
Across the hall at American Eagle Outfitters, assistant managers Abby Jones and Danielle Jacobs said they could smell the fire, so they also had everyone leave the store.
A police officer then ordered the two women to exit the mall.
"She said, 'You guys, out,'" Jacobs recalled as she stood by the east entrance to Glenbrook Square.
Karen Belcher, 45, and her teenage daughter were down the hall from the fire, near Barnes & Noble, when they heard alarms sound. While other mall patrons kept shopping, the mother and daughter went outside, and they could see dark smoke coming from one of the exits on the east side of the building, near J.C. Penney, Belcher said.
"Within about, I don't know, five minutes, we started to see the fire department show up," Belcher she said.
At 3:32 p.m., Fort Wayne fire crews were dispatched to the mall at 4201 Coldwater Road, near East Coliseum Boulevard. Sprinklers contained the flames until crews arrived at 3:37 p.m., said Stacey Fleming, a fire department spokeswoman.
In the storage area, firefighters encountered heavy smoke, and it took until 4:02 p.m. to bring the blaze under control. The fire did not spread beyond the storage area, and no one was injured, Fleming said.
Fire officials described the smoke damage as moderate and the fire and water damage as minor. Williams, the Champs Sports employee, said sprinklers left puddles in the store.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Williams said the fire had the smell of burning electrical wires.
The wing of the mall where the fire occurred was immediately evacuated, but other sections stayed open for about a half hour after the fire was reported. In J.C. Penney, cashiers continued to make sales until shortly after 4 p.m. when the department store announced that it would be closing.
"The fire department is on site," a woman said over the store's PA system. "There's no immediate danger, but they will be evacuating."
Ultimately, the entire mall was closed, and crowds gathered by the east entrance, wondering when they would be allowed back inside. Some workers took advantage of the break to play catch with a football on a patch of grass.
About 5:30 p.m., once the carbon monoxide in the mall had dropped to safe levels, authorities let employees return to their posts, and the mall was eventually reopened to customers Saturday evening, Fleming said.