Lake Street fire leaves nine residents displaced
The historic, Victorian-style home was erected in 1871 and sustained an estimated $210,000 in damage.
Rick Merryfield, Deputy Chief of EMS and Fire Prevention, said the fire was pretty substantial from the start.
“When they arrived on scene, the first engine company said they had heavy flames and smoke coming out of the west side of the building, coming out of the windows,” Merryfield said. “So they had pretty heavy fire conditions already, as soon as we had arrived.”
The fire began just before 10 p.m. and was under control prior to midnight. Merryfield said, however, that crews were still there until 11:30 a.m. the following day.
“We had crews on standby there doing overhaul and helping with the investigation,” Merryfield said.
Senior Maureen Tomal, a former resident of the house, said they had been having problems with the smoke detectors falsely going off in the days leading up to the fire. This led her to believe it was another false alarm, and she waited 10 minutes before actually realizing she was in danger.
“I went to the hallway to check it out, and smoke starting billowing out of one of the staircases and was blocking it off completely,” Tomal said. “I had to go around and make sure that everyone else was out because I was afraid that they were thinking there wasn’t a fire.”
She said that after she checked to make sure everyone was out, the other staircase was also full of smoke, and she was forced to go through it.
“I had to run through smoke, there were flames on the other side of the wall, and glass was flying,” Tomal said. “If I didn’t get out when I did, I probably would have died.”
Merryfield said Tomal was the only resident who needed to be treated by medical attention.
“She was having some respiratory difficulty, so they started her on some oxygen,” Merryfield said. “They did not end up transporting her (to the hospital).”
After a headcount, only seven of the nine residents were initially found, Merryfield said. By 1 a.m. one of the residents was confirmed to be at her boyfriend’s house, he said, but the final missing resident was still unaccounted for.
He said the other occupants did not know where she was or what kind of a car she had, and her location was unknown until 5:30 a.m. the next morning.
“For a period of time we were not 100 percent sure if everyone had made it out of the building,” Merryfield said.
Associate Dean of Students Jodi Thesing-Ritter said she was particularly troubled by this fire, the second for Eau Claire students in just over a month.
“I was very sad for our students,” Thesing-Ritter said. “I was also incredibly grateful that no one was seriously injured in either fire.”
The Eau Claire students have been provided with some money from the emergency fund for housing and supplies, Thesing-Ritter said. She added that the bookstore provided school supplies for the victims, and Counseling Services was also offered to the students.
Tomal said that even with the help, she and the other residents still need many things, especially clothes.
Thesing-Ritter said if she could deliver a message to students who now fear this happening to them, she knows what it would be.
“I would encourage students to practice fire safety . and to take smoke alarms seriously,” Thesing-Ritter said. “And it is a good idea to check insurance policies for coverage. If you are not covered under your parents’ insurance, students should have rental insurance.”