Students struggle to rebuild lives after house burns

James Schlemmer

As the semester hits its stride, most students have finally settled in. But 20 University students have been forced to start over after a fire made their house uninhabitable.

On Feb. 3, an accidental fire in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood was sparked by too many electrical cords plugged into a power strip.

The fire spread due to a pile of clothing on top of the cords, according to the fire investigation report.

Dinkytown Rentals notified residents this week that they will be unable to move back into the property on the 1300 block of 7th Street Southeast.

Dinkytown Rentals refunded all tenants’ security deposits and gave them an additional $500 to help with the transition, according to Patrick Burns, Dinkytown Rentals’ attorney.

“Our big concern is to be sensitive to what has happened,” he said. “We are committed to helping students get through this.”

Art junior Matt Sairio said it has still been a stressful week.

“It’s been exhausting; sleeping on couches and people’s floors,” he said. “Normally I take naps, but now I’m staying awake more and spending more time walking around campus and finding a new place to live.”

Sairio said he was informed that everyone had to move out when a note on the door said the building was uninhabitable. He plans to move into a more permanent residence this week.

Meghan Whelihan, ecology, evolution and behavior senior, said she is fortunate that she found a new home already, but still had a difficult week.

“I’m lucky I found a place right away,” she said. “It’s been stressful keeping up with homework.”

Whelihan lived in the room next to the fire and attempted to put it out with a fire extinguisher. She also said her room was mostly untouched.

“I saw smoke coming out of the closet from the room next door,” she said. “Our room was untouched, basically.”

The resident living in the room where the fire started was not home at the time and was unavailable for comment.

English junior Max Mose said when he went inside, the air quality was poor and the hallways had a bad odor. Despite the fact that nothing in his room was damaged, he said the overall damage took him by surprise.

“It’s considerably worse than I thought,” he said. “It was serious enough to make it uninhabitable, but it could’ve been worse.”

Burns said that while damage isn’t preventable in a fire, the residents’ safety is most important.

“Fortunately, nobody was hurt and the fire damage was kept to a minimum,” he said.

Sairio said he was at a friend’s house at the time of the fire. His room was directly above the room with the fire.

“I was initially shocked,” he said. “I was thinking: ‘Is this going to mess us up?’ “

According to the investigation report, the fire accelerated when some occupants opened the windows from the outside. The report also stated that the fire spread to the second and third floors because the fire doors at each level were left open.

Sairio said he sympathizes with the resident whose room started the fire.

“I feel bad for her; it could have happened to anyone,” he said. “There are many odd-placed circuits (in the house).”

Whelihan said she will look at the event as a learning experience.

“It has been stressful,” she said. “But now I’ll know how to react to a fire situation in the future.”