By Sue Loughlin
CNHI News Service
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — About four dozen residents have been moved to temporary housing, and cleanup efforts are under way at an Indiana State University apartment complex, the site of an apartment fire Tuesday morning.
No one was injured in the fire, which occurred in a fourth-floor apartment on the south wing of Unit 4, located near First and Crawford streets across from Fairbanks Park and just off South Third Street.
As of Wednesday, ISU did not yet have a firm estimate on damages or cleanup costs, said Amanda Knerr, executive director of residential life. “We should be getting those in the next day or so.”
EDS, an out-of-state firm which specializes in fire, smoke and water damage restoration, arrived Wednesday morning. “The entire crew arrived and began work by 10:30 or 11 a.m. They are already making great progress,” Knerr said late in the afternoon.
ISU facilities staff members also were involved and worked to remove some of the water.
The fire was contained to the one apartment, which fire officials described as a total loss. Other apartments on the fourth and third floors had smoke and water damage.
The fire was accidental, according to Brett Doan, assistant chief with the Terre Haute Fire Department. Occupants of the apartment that caught fire had been burning incense in a small bedroom and were not home when the fire started.
About 48 residents — including students, families and partners — were temporarily relocated, Knerr said. All residents of the south wing were asked to move out.
While most of the damage occurred on the third and fourth floors, as a precaution, residents on the first and second floors also were temporarily relocated to air out the apartments and to assist with cleanup.
Families moved to other apartments in the same housing complex (no families were split up), while single students either relocated to other apartments or to residence halls on the main campus.
Residents on the third and fourth floors were asked to remove all personal belonging — except for large furniture — by 6 a.m. Wednesday.
They were able to take items to their new lodging or to storage space in the basement of Unit 4. Residents “were very understanding of the situation,” Knerr said. Residents and ISU staff “worked together to get things out. … It was really good to see the community rally together.”
She was at the building late Tuesday night and saw many people offering to help.
She also praised residence hall staff for their response. “We have a great team. They all know what their roles are” and they quickly identified housing alternatives for displaced residents.
Knerr anticipated residents of the first and second floors would be out for a few days, but it will take longer for third- and fourth-floor residents to move back.
The cleanup effort will include drying out the building, cleaning furniture, clearing out smoke and removing soot.
After cleanup is completed, carpentry crews will have to repair doors and windows. Also, electrical work will need to be done in the apartment that burned.
The Wabash Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross “was phenomenal” in offering assistance and a place for residents to wait until they had new living arrangements, Knerr said.
The family that had been burning the incense did so as part of a religious observance, according to ISU officials.
Currently, residents of University Apartments are allowed to burn such things as candles and incense, Knerr said. “It is a family environment, and residents tend to be older students,” often graduate students, she said. That policy will likely be reviewed to see if anything needs to be changed.
Those who live in residence halls on the main campus are not allowed to burn such things as candles or incense.
As far as the occupants of the apartment that burned Tuesday, “Our primary concern now is helping them get settled. They lost almost everything in their apartment,” Knerr said. “We want to support them; they are emotionally strained and very worried and concerned about what is going on and happened.”
With it being Homecoming Week at ISU, responding to the fire has kept students and staff “a little more busy, but we’re all pulling together.” The goal is to get the apartments cleaned as soon as possible so residents can return.
Some of the residents had small pets that included a rabbit and ferret. University Apartment residents are allowed to keep small, caged animals. The residential life staff worked to find apartments for all those who had pets, she said.