By Judy Reed
A fire that left 18 homeless in Kent City last week has been labeled an accident.
According to Kent City Fire Chief Mike Rexford, the fire broke out in a building at Kent Ridge apartments on Wednesday, July 31, at about 2:10 a.m.
“The fire started in a wicker basket out on a deck,” explained Rexford. “It was discarded smoking material that caught fire, went up the vinyl siding, through the vinyl soffet and into the attic.”
He said that the apartment dwellers tried to put out the fire after it was discovered, but it was too large. He said that they exited the apartment and started hollering “Fire!” and pounded on the door across the hall. Meanwhile, a young man and his sister smelled smoke and pulled the fire alarms. (The Grand Rapids Press said it was Katelin Powers, 17, and her older brother Derrick.)
“He grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to put it out,” said Rexford. “He also pounded on doors and got everyone out of that unit.” The building actually was two separate units with 8 apartments each and separated by a firewall.
Rexford said he was on the scene within 5 minutes and saw heavy smoke. Six other fire departments also helped at the scene, including Sparta, Solon, Casnovia Twp., Algoma, Alpine, and an aerial truck from Walker.
The Chief said they made two rescues. He heard that one person who was bedridden was unaccounted for. A firefighter and Sheriff deputy broke down her door and got her out. She was in no immediate danger, but that wasn’t the case with the rescue that Rexford and another firefighter made.
“We pounded on a door where the woman hadn’t heard the fire alarms,” explained Rexford. “There was fire dropping from the attic access in the ceiling in the common hallway as we got her out. It was close.” He said that there was virtually no smoke in the apartments themselves, just the fire in the attic and roof.
Rexford couldn’t be more proud of the firefighters at the scene. “I’m pretty happy. They did a great job. The insurance people were blown away by the job we did on it,” he said.
The state fire marshal was not available to help survey the scene, so the ATF came out to help determine the cause of the fire. Insurance adjustors estimated the structural damage at $300,000-plus (the roof fell in), and loss of contents at $240,000 due to heavy water damage. Rexford said that out of the eight apartments affected with loss, only two had renters insurance. He noted that the owners hope to have it rebuilt in 4-5 months.
The eight units on the other side were protected by the firewall and suffered no damage. “It did its job,” noted Rexford. However, the electricity suffered and needs to be rerouted before residents can move back in.
The Red Cross stepped in to help those who had no place to go after the fire. Also, a couple of other residents who live there are trying to gather donations for those left homeless, including toiletries, blankets, pillows, clothes, shoes, etc. If you’d like to donate, email Lee Anne Ritzema at firstname.lastname@example.org.