- Chris Dzombak/Daily
By: Mallory Jones and Emily Orley
Daily Staff Reporters
Published October 25th, 2009
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University students and Ann Arbor residents lined South University Avenue Saturday night just like any other weekend, eager to get into the restaurants and bars along the crowded street.
But the scene drastically changed after a large fire broke out on the west side of the street.
The former location of Pinball Pete’s, at 1217 S. University Ave., caught fire a little before 11 p.m. Saturday night, drawing hundreds of displaced students, firefighters and police officers to what quickly became a hectic scene.
Ann Arbor Assistant Fire Chief Ed Dziubinski told The Michigan Daily that firefighters first responded to a 911 call received at 10:51 p.m.
Four fire crews immediately rushed to the scene. After initial reports were received from the firefighters on scene, the chief deputy called in a fifth crew for backup. Five minutes later, the Pittsfield Township and Ann Arbor Township fire departments were asked to send one crew each to the growing blaze.
“At the height of the fire there were 55 firefighters actively fighting,” Dziubinski said.
The fire became so large that there was concern it would spread to neighboring University Towers, an adjacent apartment building that houses hundreds of University students.
Despite these worries, it was quite some time before the building was completely evacuated. Many residents remained inside the building and watched the flames from their rooms before they were forced to leave.
“A lot of people were leaving because of the smoke,” Engineering sophomore Billy Mayer said. “But if people didn’t leave because of the smoke, they didn’t leave because of the fire alarm.”
Mayer, who lives on the eleventh floor of University Towers, did not evacuate until almost midnight, when police officers arrived and told him he had to leave the building.
LSA sophomore Gabe VanLoozen said he remained in his apartment until the fire alarm went off, almost an hour after he first smelled smoke.
“We had a great view from my apartment, it was pretty cool looking,” VanLoozen said. “The alarm went off and it got really noisy so we decided we should get out, but we were watching it for about an hour before the alarm went off.”
University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said approximately 600 students from University Towers were temporarily displaced because of the fire. She said students were allowed back into the building around 2 a.m.
But many students reported that they weren’t notified when the building was reopened.
“I had a friend check the door close to 1:00 a.m. but it was still closed,” VanLoozen said. “I checked it myself around 1:30 a.m. and it was open so I went back in.”
According to VanLoozen, the only people in the building after the fire besides the returning residents were inspectors making sure the air quality was safe.
After several attempts to speak with the management of University Towers yesterday, the Daily was told the manager was not working and was unreachable.
Cunningham said the extent of the damage was limited to six apartments in the building.
Undergraduate Program Coordinator Cheryl Erdmann sent an e-mail to Communications Studies majors Sunday night, informing them of damage to the Communications Studies offices located in the same building as University Towers.
"Our offices have sustained minor damage from smoke and water and a broken front glass door pane," Erdmann wrote in the e-mail. "We do not have computer or telephone access in the department at this time."
"We are attempting to resolve these issues as quickly as possible," she added.
Dziubinski told the Daily that investigation had begun into the cause of the fire as of 2 a.m. Sunday morning. But he said he was unable to comment on the investigation because it is ongoing.