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A fire that ripped through a Sterling Heights apartment complex on Christmas Day was caused by a discarded cigarette, officials said Wednesday.

The cigarette became lodged in an air conditioning unit, which then likely malfunctioned and caused a fire ball to spread quickly, Sterling Heights Fire Chief Chris Martin said in a statement.

He also said the blaze caused more than an estimated $2.5 million in damage to the Sterling Troy Apartments, located on Dequindre Road near 15 Mile, at about 9 a.m. Tuesday.

It also displaced 50 families and one firefighter suffered a fractured leg while battling the blaze, he added. The firefighter had surgery and is expected to make a full recovery but will need several months to heal.

ReadFirefighter hurt in apartment complex blaze in Sterling Heights

Fire crews from the departments of Clinton Township, Warren, Utica, Shelby Township, Washington Township, Fraser and the Detroit Arsenal helped Sterling Heights firefighters put out the fire, which was brought under control by about 2 p.m.

Displaced residents of the complex were taken to a nearby senior center. 

On Wednesday, the apartment complex's property manager said it is collecting donations for the families.

Arianna Woznak said the firm is accepting any type of donations, but families need personal care items the most.

A handful of families with children lost their Christmas presents as well as their personal belongings, she said.

Donations may be dropped off at the apartments office, 34350 Dequindre, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They can also call Woznak at (586) 268-2193.

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez

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