MSU Students Displaced After House Fire

By: Shannon Kantner Email
By: Shannon Kantner Email

"I'm really hoping we can all get back to our spot and pretend like this never happened."

-MSU Sophomore Andew Van Otteren

Some MSU students are left with just the shirts on their back after an early morning fire at the largest housing co-op in East Lansing.

MSU sophomore Andrew Van Otteren had only been living in Phoenix House Cooperative on Oakhill Ave. for a little over week, and now he's in disbelief.

"I opened the door, saw an orange glow in the ceiling," Van Otteren said. "We just started running like, 'Everybody out!' I ran through the halls."

Van Otteren said all 29 residents were safely out of the house in under five minutes, and then the East Lansing Fire Department arrived.

"They were on it early, they got everybody out, they called 9-1-1," East Lansing Fire Inspector Don Carter said. "They tripped the alarm. The guys made a quick response and knocked down the fire, everything worked just like it's supposed to."

Fire officials said it could have been much worse. It took them just under two hours to contain the flames. It started on the roof of the second floor, destroying at least two rooms, and severely damaging several others.

"Everything was covered in water, like everything was drenched," Van Otteren said. "I pretty much just have what I have on now."

Cleaning crews were in the house all day gathering the damaged furniture and pieces of the home. A dumpster on the lawn was nearly overflowing with all the charred items.

Several neighbors are helping the students and offering a place to stay. One man opened his home to eight of the residents in the morning, as they waited for fire officials to determine when it was safe enough to enter the house again.

"We've got to get the units that are not habitable shut down completely, and make sure that it's safe for those who do move back in," Carter said.

They're checking for electrical problems, but they don't know the cause yet. Some neighbors say fireworks are to blame, after a late-night birthday celebration at the co-op.

"I heard the same story, and if I can't prove it, it didn't happen," Carter said. "So, we're looking into that."

For now the students are just focused on calling it home again.

"I'm really hoping we can all get back to our spot and pretend like this never happened," Van Otteren said.

Half of the residents are able to move back in Wednesday night, but it could be weeks until the rest can return. There was significant damage to the roof, and it needs to be repaired and even replaced. Those students will stay at the other co-ops at MSU.

The Mid-Michigan Chapter of the Red Cross was also on the scene and provided students with overnight kits.

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