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Published: Sunday, 11/17/2002

Fire at UT-area apartments displaces about 250 students

BY JASON WILLIAMS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Firefighters work to extinguish an early morning blaze at University Circle Apartments, 3414 Dorr St., near the school's Bancroft Street campus. Scores of students were left homeless. Firefighters work to extinguish an early morning blaze at University Circle Apartments, 3414 Dorr St., near the school's Bancroft Street campus. Scores of students were left homeless.
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Scores of University of Toledo students were awakened abruptly yesterday, forced into snowy, subfreezing weather, and ultimately left homeless when fire destroyed a portion of one of the buildings at University Circle Apartments, 3414 Dorr St., near the school's Bancroft Street campus.

It was one of two apartment building blazes Toledo firefighters battled yesterday. The other was at Shelly Marie Apartments, 3747 West Alexis Rd., where about 30 people were left homeless after eight apartments were damaged.

No one was hurt in either fire.

The blaze near UT, which was ruled accidental but whose cause was unknown, began about 6 a.m. in the apartment complex's 77-unit Building A. No damage estimate was available last night.

Within moments, students were racing through the hallways, banging on doors and yelling to friends and neighbors that the two-story structure built in 1967 was on fire.

Tom Oxley, a UT senior from Rocky River, Ohio, called 911 and then became one of those banging on doors. He didn't get any immediate responses. “They probably thought I was a drunk student,” he said.

Mr. Oxley, who was sleeping on a couch, awakened and saw an orange glow. At first, he thought he had left his porch light on. But when he looked out the window, he saw “the porch above me was on fire.”

Mr. Oxley, who has taken tests to be a firefighter in Columbus, awakened his roommate, Megan Busey, rounded up their three cats - Bee, Miss Muffet, and Padme - and hustled them into their cages.

As the smoke got thicker, he and Ms. Busey fled the structure. Fire, he said, “was pouring out of everything, like you see in the movies. It was out of windows and doors. The gutters melted. It was like an adrenaline kind of scare.”

Louis Lamarca, 20, a UT junior from Brunswick, Ohio, was awakened by the sound of shattering glass and thought it was caused by some of his fellow students.

Then he “looked out the window and saw a bunch of flames,” Mr. Lamarca said. “I think all my stuff is gone. There was fire everywhere. I came out, and firefighters were all over the place. Smoke was all over the place.”

Fire Chief Mike Bell said the structure's firewalls helped stem the spread of the flames.

The fire destroyed about a quarter of Building A. Residents were evacuated from the adjacent Building B, which has 58 units.

Officials estimated that 250 students were affected by the fire.

That included 50 who were left homeless, and 75 who will be out of their apartments for four to six weeks, said Kristen Cajka, spokesman for the Greater Toledo Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.

About 125 students were expected to be allowed to return to their apartments tomorrow.

In the meantime, most of the 250 were housed last night and tonight, at UT's expense, at the Toledo Hilton on the Medical College of Ohio campus, Ms. Cajka said.

Chief Bell said that when firefighters arrived, they found smoke, flames, and students trying to extinguish the blaze.

Firefighters raced through Building B, knocking on doors, jarring students awake, and ordering them to safety.

“The crews made an attack on [the fire]. The firewalls delayed the fire enough for us [to keep it from spreading to the rest of the structure,]” the chief said. But in the area where the fire was concentrated, “the building started to collapse. ... We had to move back,” he said.

The blaze was brought under control in about three hours.

The fire department had nine pumpers, four aerial ladder trucks, one heavy rescue squad, several other rescue units, two life squads, and several chiefs on the scene at the height of the fire. Later came the investigators - from the fire department itself, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the state fire marshal's office.

Firefighters remained at the smoldering ruins all day and were to be there overnight.

As the firefighters worked, the students, not exactly dressed for the weather - lightly falling snow and temperatures with the wind-chill factored in that felt like 20 degrees - waited and watched.

Eventually, buses were brought in for the students to board and get warm.

Later they were taken to The Crossings dormitory nearby, where an assistance center was manned by university personnel, Red Cross workers, and representatives of the Salvation Army.

The center will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. today to provide affected students with housing assistance, counseling, and the issuance of cards for free meals for a week.

The university has about 4,400 beds on and off campus. Housing is about 95 percent occupied, and officials are working on alternative housing for those displaced by the blaze.

UT officials also are working with international students on such issues as replacing destroyed passports and other documents.

And, “we are going to start looking at the longer term needs for students and make academic accommodations,” said Joe Brennan, a UT spokesman, referring to students concerned about the loss of textbooks and course work.

The university leases a portion of the complex from a title company and subleases the space back to students. The complex is held in trust by Port Lawrence Title and Trust Co., Inc., in downtown Toledo, according to Lucas County Auditor records.

The complex is owned by a family in Wisconsin, the complex's property manager said.

At the Shelly Marie Apartment fire, about 30 people needed alternate housing after firefighters cut electricity to the building after a blaze that caused $150,000 damage was extinguished. The electrical fire started about 11:45 a.m. and spread into the attic. Firefighters were there three hours.

“The north wind pushed it through the structure,” Battalion Fire Chief Frank Keating said. Four apartments were damaged by fire and four others had smoke and water damage, he said. The Red Cross was assisting those residents too.



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