Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Fire at State and Stimson

21. November 2005 • Murph
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I was wondering what the sirens were last night; from the Detroit News:

Three people jumped for their lives from the third floor of a burning apartment building in Ann Arbor early this morning.

Police officers found a young woman hanging from a third-floor window of the apartment building near the corner of State and Stimson streets when they arrived at 12:50 a.m., according to Ann Arbor Police Department sergeant Tom Hickey.
. . .
He added that most of the residents in the building, which is located near the University of Michigan’s campus, are young people but not affiliated with the university.

The fire started in one of the apartments, but the cause has yet to be determined by fire investigators, according to Hickey.

Sounds like a broken leg from jumping and smoke inhalation are the extent of residents’ injuries.

Edit: Walking around the building, I see relatively light damage – the picture above was the most dramatic view I could get.

  1. How long till they blame the fire on a couch on the…balcony?
       —Dale    Nov. 21 '05 - 03:23PM    #
  2. A2 News has more details

    “Ann Arbor Fire Battalion Chief Mike French said the blaze does not appear suspicious, and the initial investigation reveals it may have started near an electrical power strip in one of the upper-floor apartments.”
       —Murph    Nov. 21 '05 - 04:07PM    #
  3. The porch couch ban was just recently revived by the fire chief. Wow, how convenient . . .
       —Jared Goldberg    Nov. 21 '05 - 05:43PM    #
  4. I can hear it now, “it may have been an electrical fire this time but it could just have easily been a couch fire”.

    I wish the city was as worried about fire exits in apartments as they are about couches on porches.
       —Kate    Nov. 21 '05 - 08:21PM    #
  5. If you really think the Fire Department has nothing to do but dream up ways to pick on students, I would suggest you spend a few days with them. Every firefighter I have ever had the privilege of talking to has been absolutely adamant about fire safety and trying to prevent as many fires as possible. They object to all sorts of configurations and behavior that those of us who don’t see fires regularly think is silly (for example, where I used to work, they made us move all the filing cabinets out of a wide hallway because the contents could potentially catch on fire and block an exit).

    I heard the inspector talk about this building last night (I happened to be at a meeting she attended) and of the six apartments they could get in to, five had the batteries taken out of the smoke detectors (hmm, might be why they couldn’t hear them, huh?). The building was fine for egress, it is not required to have fire escapes because each unit has two safe exits: the stairs and the windows which are fairly low. The person who jumped only broke an ankle and that was because he landed on a firefighter.

    The reason the fire department pushes about the couch fires is because there have been two fires with injuries in the last year that started on couches (yes, they said last night that it has been determined that two started in the couches). They are just as adamant about the file cabinets and when was the last time you heard of someone who was injured in a file-cabinet fire?
       —Juliew    Nov. 22 '05 - 11:03PM    #
  6. Juliew:

    No one is railing on the firefighters per se. The thing is, certain groups in Ann Arbor might stand to benefit from the firefighters campaigning against the porch couches. Groups with money. With influence. You see where I’m getting with this?

    As for your claims regarding the source of the fires, do you have any sources to back those up? Because I’ve heard the contrary; the last fire was started in a hallway as a result of a bad electrical outlet, or something very similar.

    Also, the apartments have small balconies, where this no room for couches, at least that’s what I’ve read in the Daily. So, if you could, please post a link to the story regarding the causes of the fire.
       —Jared Goldberg    Nov. 23 '05 - 12:00AM    #
  7. Jared, I didn’t say this Stimpson fire was caused by a burning couch, I said two house fires in the past year have been caused by burning couches. This one was an overloaded electrical strip (not a bad outlet or a couch). I don’t know the addresses of the two fires the inspector was talking about as being the porch couch fires. Oakland and Arch maybe? The one where the football players lived and then the one more recently where the guy on the top floor was badly burned. I think the fire department could tell you exactly what the addresses were.
       —Juliew    Nov. 23 '05 - 12:11AM    #
  8. I have requested the city’s reports for 730 Arbor and 924 Oakland, the houses in question. I am also interviewing the house residents (at least one of whom denies the claim that the fire started on the couch) and will make the results public when I am through.

    For my piece, I enjoy the hell out of the couch on my front porch and I am skeptical of the claims that the fires started there (particularly at 4 am on a Tuesday night and Thursday night, respectively).

    A larger point is this: even if two fires in the last year were accelerated by a couch on a porch, THAT IS NO REASON TO BAN COUCHES. We accept risks in everything we do for the sake of pleasure, convenience, and society. Electrical outlets and gas stoves PER SE are far greater dangers to our health than couches—we accept those risks and we should with couches as well, despite the zeal of firefighters.

    This is a waste of the public’s time and money.
       —Dale    Nov. 23 '05 - 01:01AM    #
  9. Back to the immediate topic –
    I spoke with a pair of residents of this apartment building last night; they lived in the back (unburned) half of the building and were able to move back in Monday night, though the insurers hadn’t finished their investigation up front yet.
       —Murph    Nov. 23 '05 - 02:35PM    #
  10. Dale:

    That’s exactly the information I wanted to hear from Juliew. I’m interested to know what you find out.

    I think the main point of contention that I have is that while the city may be touting the porch couch ban for safety, at the same time they are exploring lowering the housing inspection criteria, so that a house only needs to be inspecting X amount of times in a given period, or something like that.

    That’s why I think it’s not about safety. If anyone can reconcile those two facts for me and still say it’s about safety, be my guest.
       —Jared Goldberg    Nov. 24 '05 - 09:23PM    #
  11. I just got the investigative report on the 730 Arbor fire in the mail; still waiting on 924 Oakland. It is as I suspected; a conclusion based on very shaky evidence.

    I will selectively quote here from the 13 page report and scan the pages to as soon as I can.

    From the Summary:

    The investigation revealed that the fire originated on an upholstered sofa located on the front porch. The fire load created by the furniture engulfed the entire front of the house and radiant heat caused the inside front (living room) to flash over. The cause of ignition has not been determined but may possibly be carelessly discarded smoking material.

    However, more from the meat of the report:

    Name Withheld) said he was home since about 7:30 pm. He was watching his television in his bedroom with (Name Withheld) when at about midnight, they heard a popping sound and saw a blue green arc similiar to a blown light bulb in the hall just outside of his bedroom door.

    Scene examination:

    The front of the house facing North had flame damage from the floor of the porch on upward. The floor area where sofa springs were found had burned away and the supporting joist in the area had burn damage from the top (indicating the fire start beneath the porch) [sic]. The living room window glass was curled from the heat and melted toward the exterior.

    There were wires on the wall in the normal area of a light fixture and we found broken pieces of heavy glass beneath it which could possibly be a light cover or an ashtray.

    During this time [when residents went back to retrieve some belongings] (Name Withheld) told me that he and the other roommates thought “that (Name Withheld) was very drunk and fell asleep while smoking on the front porch sofa.”


    During their investigation of the scene. During the their investigation, Foresi recovered part of the upholstered sofa from the front porch. They also found breakers 4, 6, 8, 9, 13 tripped in the main breaker box. Along with photographs, they took the grill and propane tank from the scene as well as the basement smoke detector.


    Based upon fire pattern analysis, investigation of the fire scene, and witness statements, it is my opinion with a reasonable degree of professional certainty that this fire originated on the front porch on the upholstered sofa.

    It is also my opinion that a “possible” cause of this fire was carelessly discarded smoking materials by (Name Withheld). I base my opinion on the following:

    1. (Name Withheld) was chain-smoking on another porch (Name Withheld’s) earlier in the evening.

    2. (Name Withheld) displayed an intoxicated appearance earlier in the evening where his coordination was impaired to the point where he could not stand on his own accord. His was describe [sic] as “drinking more than usual.”

    3. Discarded cigarette butts around the porch indicating the outside area was used for smoking and a lighter was found in pants believed to be worn by (Name Withheld) that evening.

    This theory is consistent with common threads found nationally in campus-related fire fatalities such as carelss smoking and alcohol consumption (“Campsu Fire Safety Fact Sheet.” Center for Campus Fire Safety, 9/6/2005). The U.S. Fire Administration/National Fire Data Center reported in a 2003 study that up to 40% of residential fire death victims are alcohol impaired.

    This is not remotely conclusive.
       —Dale    Dec. 9 '05 - 12:04AM    #
  12. What’s up with the breakers being tripped/blue-green flashing in the hallway? That sounds electrical to me… especially with the glass and the wires…. hmm. Tricky.
       —Heidi    Dec. 9 '05 - 05:21AM    #
  13. Jared,

    Sorry I missed your query the first time around –
    The City is not trying to reduce the frequency of inspections. The State had legislation introduced that would reduce the frequency at which inspections could be performed, and the City of Ann Arbor passed a resolution opposing the State proposal . Looks like the Bill has not yet been passed by the leg., though I don’t know exactly what’s up with it.

    Let’s make sure that when we criticize the City, it’s for something they deserve. :)
       —Murph    Dec. 9 '05 - 03:45PM    #
  14. That’s right. I talked to Ward’s chief of staff at the end of the summer, who said that they were going to continue negotiating with the Michigan Municipal League, et al., to try to work something out, but it looks like it is thankfully stalled for now.
       —Dale    Dec. 9 '05 - 07:07PM    #
  15. I just got the investigative report for the June 2004 924 Oakland fire (the one that started the whole couch ban thing). In that case, as in the 730 Arbor case, investigators concluded that the fire started on the couch because they could not conclude that it started someplace else.

    “Based upon the above examination the origin of this fire is in the area of the couch located on the North side of the front porch. The cause of this fire is undetermined. There are no accidental, mechanical, or natural ignition sources involved. This fire was caused by human involvement, however, will be listed as undetermined because at this time the ignition source and the first fuel ignited are unknown.

    EVIDENCE: 1 Green cigarette lighter. Taken from in front of 920 Oakland [next door]. Driveway skirt East of sidewalk. Stored in AAFD evidence locker.”

    I should have scans of the reports up by the end of the day at
       —Dale    Dec. 16 '05 - 03:27PM    #