Fire wrecks students’ Como home

The electrical fire destroyed the second and third floors and injured two firefighters.

Landlord Tim Buffham examines the damage in his southeast Como rental property caused by a fire on Saturday afternoon.

Landlord Tim Buffham examines the damage in his southeast Como rental property caused by a fire on Saturday afternoon.

Kyle Potter

There is a thick grime of black ash and soot clouding the white ceiling. The humidity in the house is nearly intolerable, and the carpet is still damp from an hour spent dousing the flames.
Right now, this house is uninhabitable.
Six fire trucks and about 30 firefighters crowded the streets surrounding 1082 17th Ave. SE to fight a fire that broke out there Saturday afternoon, leaving three University of Minnesota students without a house.
None of the students were inside the house when the fire started.
The report on the fire had not been filed as of press time, but owner and landlord Tim Buffham said the fire was classified as an “electrical accident” by an investigator from the Minneapolis Fire Department.
MFD firefighters entered the house at 11:47 a.m. The extinguishing was going as planned until a pocket of oxygen fed the relatively small flames. The flames then flashed over, giving two firefighters second and third-degree burns, MFD Deputy Chief Cherie Penn said.
One of those firefighters jumped out of the third-floor window and onto an overhang below. The other was able to walk out of the house.
Both were in satisfactory condition at Hennepin County Medical Center on Tuesday, Penn said.
It was the first notable fire in the area around the University since a hookah coal caused a house on 14th Avenue to erupt in flames in October
Monday, two days after the fire tore through the second and third floors of the house, Buffham walked through to survey the damage again.
“So much for the door,” he said, walking into a third-floor bedroom. “The doors are well done,” he added with a laugh.
Though it is still too early to tell, Buffham guessed repairs will cost more than $150,000.
Much of the third floor is burned beyond recognition. Gaping holes in the roof and walls are now covered with wood panels or tarp, and part of the floor fell through to a bedroom below. 
No part of the home is left unscathed. Dehumidifiers sit throughout the house to battle severe water damage — the consequence of firefighters’ efforts. Charred wood is strewn on every floor, remnants of flames that spread downward from their origin: the crawlspace between the second and third floors.
Engineering senior Carl Johnson, who lived at the house, checked his voicemail the night of the fire to hear the message from Buffham. Hours later, he returned from a camping trip to salvage what he could and look at what had become of his room.
“My PlayStation 3, that’s probably toast,” he said, adding it to a long list of his destroyed belongings.
Luckily, he has renters insurance, and all of his losses will be covered. Renters insurance protects tenants’ belongings from theft or damage and costs between $15 and $30 per month, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. 
With a new perspective on his policy, Johnson urged every college student to look into purchasing renters’ insurance.
“It’s well worth the premium that you pay,” he said.
Johnson said he’ll be staying with family and friends for the remainder of the summer. When fall semester begins, he’ll find a place to stay until November, when Buffham guessed repairs will be completed.
Buffham said he planned to meet with contractors and insurance adjusters Tuesday to begin what will surely be a long and grueling renovation.
“We’ll walk through it again,” he said, still managing to laugh as he left his devastated house for the second time.