Four WWU students were burned out of their rental home on Grant Street in the York Neighborhood in the early morning hours Tuesday, 11 January. Although it is too soon for the official report of the cause of the fire from the fire department investigators, it appears that the fire may have been electrical in origin. The Zonemaven and Anne Mackie, President of the York Neighborhood Association were able to speak to two of the renters, to include the one who had discovered the fire and alerted his housemates. They indicated that previous problems with the electrical system and the absence of functioning smoke alarms had been reported to the property management firm, however, the firm did not respond.
Earlier in the evening, the students noticed that the lights were flickering. When one of the students checked the circuit breaker after hearing some crackling sounds, he found that the breaker had been partially tripped. He reset the breaker before going to bed. Later during the night, he decided to get up and eat at which time he found flames near the ceiling in the upstairs bathroom. At that time he alerted his housemates who then fled the home prior to the arrival of the fire department. Since the smoke alarms did not function, a tragedy was averted only because one renter happened to be awake. Understandably, the students are quite angry.
In an email to the City Council this afternoon, Anne Mackie stated:
"I am thankful that these young people got out unharmed -- also their cat. However, I am dismayed that our City Council continues to delay action on the need for a rental inspection and licensing program.
I appeal to you, City Council, to take up the issue of rental housing safety as a priority. Our city needs a program of rental housing inspections, fire code enforcement and rental business licensing so that our citizens are protected. What is it going to take to make this a priority?
York neighbors will be discussing this incident at the York Neighborhood meeting tomorrow night, 6:30 p.m., at Garden St. Methodist Church, and we will be assisting these young people in any way we can to help replace their belongings or help them find safe, decent housing while they are in our city."
The Zonemaven will follow this story closely and provide further reports in this blog. It may be that the City Council and the Mayor will find this their "teachable moment" and take the issue of inspection of rentals more seriously.