5th anniversary of 3 students who died in house fire

Nathan Palpant, 2, eats corn-on-the-cob at the Como Cookout held Saturday at Van Cleve Park. This year’s cookout was held exactly five years after three University students were killed in a Como neighborhood house fire.

Marija Majerle

Nathan Palpant, 2, eats corn-on-the-cob at the Como Cookout held Saturday at Van Cleve Park. This year’s cookout was held exactly five years after three University students were killed in a Como neighborhood house fire.

The typically festive Como Cookout was marked by a somber reminder of the importance of fire safety in houses. Saturday marked the five-year anniversary of the house fire that killed University students Elizabeth Wencl, Amanda Speckien and Brian Heiden . They were honored at the cookout at Van Cleve Park, which is located close to where the fire occurred. Kim Wencl, mother of Liz Wencl, spoke for a few minutes at the cookout preceding a moment of silence. She said she wants to prevent future fires in student housing. âÄú[The pain] never goes away; itâÄôs always there. It always will be,âÄù Wencl said. âÄúI really want to do everything I can so that nobody else has to lose a college-age child to a fire.âÄù While Wencl believes everyone plays a part in fire prevention, she said student tenants have the biggest role. âÄúThey make some silly mistakes and unfortunately the silly mistakes can be deadly,âÄù Wencl said. Wencl said her daughter was drinking on the night of the fire and was a smoker, and said she believes the fire was caused by careless smoking. âÄúIn essence, she more than likely brought about her own demise,âÄù Wencl said. In 2004, a tree was planted in Van Cleve Park in memory of the three students. On Saturday, people at the cookout tied gold ribbons to the tree to honor them. Bill Dane , a University Student Legal Service attorney, said students rarely file complaints about the fire safety of their houses. Wendy Menken, president of the Southeast Como Improvement Association , said fire safety is a âÄúlandlord-centric problem,âÄù adding that certain landlords just care about making money. âÄúWhen your attitude is about the money, youâÄôre willing to shave some corners,âÄù Menken said. Menken said problems arise from converting traditional homes into rental properties and taking advantage of weak safety codes. âÄúThe codeâÄôs pretty pathetic,âÄù Menken said. âÄúThe code just says there has to be a window big enough to crawl out of; it doesnâÄôt necessarily mean there has to be a front door and a back door.âÄù Wencl said one of the problems with the house her daughter died in was that the front porch was the only way out. Menken said more aggressive enforcement of safety codes might be the best option. Housing enforcement is handled by the city of Minneapolis, but students usually have to be the ones to call about problems. Wencl said there should be smoke detectors in homes that cannot be dismantled, and that sprinklers would be ideal. There is currently a proposal at the International Code Council Final Action Hearings in Minneapolis to require fire sprinklers in all newly built homes and townhomes across the country. âÄúThe situation is better than it was five years ago,âÄù Dane said. He said after the fire, awareness among students was better than it had been, but the students who now live in off-campus housing werenâÄôt here when the fire occurred. âÄúWeâÄôre far enough away from the event now that a lot of the students who are moving out into housing have never heard of this fire,âÄù Dane said. Sophomore Angie Courshaine was one of those students before she heard about the fire while she was at the cookout with her roommates. Courshaine and her roommates had University Student Legal Service look over their lease, but they have no problems in regard to fire safety. She said they have fire-safe windows, working fire alarms and more than two exits out of their house.