By Kelline Linton, Chief Copy Editor
A house caught fire Wednesday afternoon in the 1400 block of Westheimer Road, leaving two ACU students, one Cisco Junior College student and a married couple safe but with their residences gutted and burned.
The house was a duplex with a double-sided dividing wall that separated the two halves. ACU students Philip N. Greer, junior finance and marketing major from Colorado Springs, Colo., and Justin W. Isham, fifth year senior from Colorado Springs, Colo.,and Cisco Junior College student Sean Greer, also from Colorado Springs, shared the right side of the house, while Mr. and Mrs. Reedy lived in the left half.
A friend called Mrs. Reedy to tell her about the fire. When she arrived at the scene with tears smearing her cheeks, she asked the firemen about her dogs. They were in the backyard, and no one had seen them yet. After the firemen brought her the unscathed pets, she held one of the small dachshunds closely to her chest as she watched her home burn.
The fire started in a trash bin in front of the house and jumped to the eaves in the roof. From there, it spread to the attics. By the time the firemen extinguished most of the flames, it had destroyed one of the garages and both attics.
“It did quite a bit of damage to both attic areas,” said Lt. Greg Goettsch, public information officer. “Once it was in the attic, it spread easily because of the exposed timbers.”
Goettsch said the fire had the potential for causing injuries and widespread destruction.
“If we didn’t have such a rapid response to this, it could have spread to other properties,” he said.
Police received the first call about the fire at 3:53 p.m., and the first fire engine was on the scene at 3:55 p.m. The firemen had the fire under control by 4:33 p.m.
“Within two minutes, it went up,” said Pam Chamberlin, ho lived in the apartment complex across the street from the house.
By the time the fire was almost extinguished, the smell of smoke permeated the street, and piles of burnt rubble cluttered around the outside of the house. Water soaked the grass, and one ambulance and five fire operational units blocked the street as more than 10 firemen worked the scene.
Hundreds of ants swarmed the pavement in front of the students’ feet as the three men sat in a row on a step across from their house, watching the firemen work to battle the remaining flames.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” Greer said. “I might have to leave school for the semester.”
Jan Meyer, assistant dean of Student Life, and Bob Strader, camp director of the ACU Leadership Camps, were at the Center for Conflict Resolution when they saw the smoke behind the building. After arriving at the scene, they met the students and talked to them.
When Meyer heard Greer had left his cell phone in the house, she gave him her phone to borrow for as long as he needed and said to him, “If you need a place to stay tonight, we can make that happen.”
Meyer and Strader were ready to help in any way they could.
“Anybody would have done the same thing,” Strader said.
Neither Isham nor Greer wanted to use the phone to call their parents, until they knew exactly what had happened.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” Isham said. “I’m a little out of it right now.”
Greer, who moved out of his parents’ house when he was 18 years old, had everything he owned in the duplex.
None of the students had renter’s insurance.
“If you don’t have renter’s insurance and you have a fire, you are pretty much going to eat the entire loss yourself,” Goettsch said. “The owner of the property will probably have insurance on the property, but that doesn’t insure the contents unless he is living there.”
When Dr. Joel-Neal Thompson, vice president and the dean of Student Life, arrived at the scene, he told the men he was there to encourage and support them. He arranged for the students to stay in Smith Hall for free as long as they needed. Thompson also is working on supplying them with meal plans and textbooks.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the investigators were still looking into the exact cause of the fire.
“It most likely is accidental in nature,” Goettsch said.
He said they do not suspect foul play.
“We have to rule out all causes, including manmade causes,” said Lt. Eddy Harris, an investigator at the scene. “We will sit down and look at the whole picture.”