Tenants return after fire

By Stewart Warren

Twenty-one NIU students returned to their Greek Row townhouses Sunday after a Dec. 14 fire damaged two of the building’s five units.

The fire began in townhouse B at 808 W. Hillcrest Drive and spread to townhouse A. The blaze began when a heat gun, a tool similar to a hair dryer but twice as powerful, was used to thaw frozen pipes in an upstairs bathroom, said Lt. Stanley Croom of the DeKalb Fire Department.

A piece of insulation behind the tile shower wall ignited when a worker blew hot air on the faucet valve to thaw the pipe, said Paul Sauser of Northern Illinois Property Management, the building’s owner.

Kathy Hughes, 20, a townhouse B resident, said their pipes had been frozen in the upstairs shower for three days. Sauser said the pipes had been frozen three different times that week.

Hughes said she and her roommate, Leanne McCartney, 20, were studying for exams downstairs around 5:30 p.m. when they heard “all this thrashing” upstairs, she said. Hughes and McCartney ran up to the second story bathroom and found the worker tearing down their shower wall to put out the fire, Hughes said.

Hughes said the worker left the townhouse around 6:30 p.m., confident the fire was out, and assured the residents their hot water would return in a few hours, she said.

At 7:30 p.m. Hughes and McCartney smelled smoke but Hughes said they did not worry about it. At 8:30 p.m. there was hot water in the shower, but smoke was coming out of the faucet wall, Hughes said. McCartney ran downstairs and called the DeKalb Fire Department, and they were there “in about a minute,” Hughes said.

Firefighters battled the blaze in sub-zero temperatures and brought the fire under control at 10:30 p.m., Croom said. Because the fire started in the attic it was difficult to fight, Croom said. “It’s much more difficult to fight a fire you can’t see,” he said.

Icy streets also complicated the fire department’s work and one firefighter was treated at Kishwaukee Community Hospital for pulled back muscles after falling at the scene, Croom said.

Although none of the residents were injured, Hughes said “I lost everything—my tv, stereo, VCR, camera and typewriter.” Only one pair of her jeans was alright to wear, she said.

Firefighters did save McCartney’s marriage license, rings and bridesmaids’ gifts for her Dec. 16 wedding, Hughes said. Croom estimated the building’s repairs would total $75,000. Sauser said he had not received the bills for the repairs yet and did not know how much the work would cost.

Sauser said there was work done to improve the townhouses that were not directly affected by the blaze. Smoke detectors were installed in every bedroom in the townhouses, though city code only requires one in the upstair’s hallway, he said. The upstairs of the two townhouses were totally redone and new appliances and cabinets were installed.