It’s been more than a week since smoke emanated from a residence near the corner of 16th St. and Columbia Ave. Although no one was hurt, the architectural damage still lingers. Around midnight on Oct. 16, police and Campus Safety officers in their vehicles flocked toward the smoke, which was coming from a detached garage at 161 E. 16th St. They quickly reported the fire. As the fire began to envelop the garage, a few students came out of their houses on 15th St. Officers alerted the residents of nearby housing as the fire became more threatening to the adjacent lots. “I was dead asleep,” said Stephen Rivas (’20), who lives in Columbia Apartments, just north of the incident’s location. “I had no idea what was going on. Next thing I know, Campus Safety knocks on my door and says there’s a fire next door.” Students gathered on the sidewalks outside of Belt Cottage and Beeuwkes Cottage, having been warned of the danger just beyond their backyards.
Campus Safety officers directed several of the students as they removed their vehicles from the parking lot near the fire. The fire continued unchecked as students waited for the fire department to arrive, and a few power lines near the garage sparked alarmingly. There was a mixture of fear and awe drifting through the air along with the smoke from the flames. “When I walked outside,” said Rivas, “I saw this huge, blazing fire over the garage and I thought, ‘That’s cool.’ [It was] quite a spectacle to observe from a distance.’” The first crew of firefighters arrived at 12:16 a.m. and called for two more units to assist in putting out the flames.
They began hosing down the structure from a safe distance. In circumstances where power lines are involved, as in this case, firefighters must be careful not to allow electricity to travel through the water from the hose back to them. There were sections of the garage that were resistant, but the firefighters soon had the fire under control. They then began checking the surrounding structures for any further danger, or damage. According to an article in the Sentinel, the fire destroyed the garage as well as three vehicles parked near it. The home adjacent to the garage and the business next door maintained only minimal heat damage. Many students dispersed, heading to friends’ housing as they awaited an all-clear from officials.
Despite the discomfort of being forced to be out in the cold instead of in their warm homes, the students were grateful that their safety was preserved. “I’m glad Campus Safety was there,” said Rivas,. “I’m glad everyone in my apartment was safe.” Although there are speculations that the fire was related to the electrical lines nearby, the cause is still under investigation. Students who have information about the fire are encouraged to contact Holland Department of Public Safety Fire Marshal Bret Groendyke at 355-1024.