Daniel Ketchelos— Staff Writer
A grease fire in a Southview apartment prompted students to evacuate the building at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1 on the campus of Dordt University. Two apartments were affected by the incident.
Students in SV-204 were cooking with hot oil when it caught fire, and the heat melted the glass tube on the sprinkler system. Water began to rain down on the apartment, extinguishing the fire, but also causing flooding in the apartment below.
“Before the alarms went off, we heard what sounded like bubbling coming from the ceiling, and we first thought that a sink had gotten messed up,” Elijah Vos, a resident of SV-104, said. “Then the water came pouring down the walls through the ceiling.”
The Sioux Center Fire Department arrived on the scene within five minutes of the alarms sounding. Seven workers from facilities were also present on the scene to help fix the alarms and sprinkler system. Individuals from student services, including Robert Taylor and Derek Buteyn, helped direct students on the best approach to removing their belongings from the affected apartments.
“We went up and looked in the other apartment to see if there was a fire,” Vos said, “and when we confirmed that there wasn’t, we went back downstairs and tried to save what we could from our room. We had about two to three standing inches of water in our kitchen.”
Vos’ apartment has water damage throughout the kitchen. The bedrooms and bathroom are not affected by the flooding. Vos and his roommates relocated to the Econo Lodge on the night of the fire for temporary housing. On Oct. 5, Dordt facilities approved the students in SV-204 to move back into their apartment, and those in SV-104 to move back on Oct. 6.
“A big thanks to the people that helped us with cleaning, and the Sioux Center Fire Department for a quick response,” Vos said. “They’ve been straightforward with us and have had a good line of communication for what we needed to do.”
The affected apartments have water damage and paint discoloration to the walls, and SV-104’s sheetrock ceiling tiles are marred. According to facilities, the harm is minimal and will be repaired during Christmas break.
“Damage is significantly less in the apartments than if the fire had kept on burning,” Josh Dorhout, Director of Facilities and Services, said. “The sprinkler activated within two minutes of the fire and extinguished it, which is much faster than the five minutes it takes for the fire department to arrive.”
In addition to the damage in SV-104 and SV204, the Southview elevator is not operational.
“The broken elevator is a result of related timing, not a related issue to the fire,” Dorhout said. “We had to turn the electricity off to reset the alarms, which caused a motor issue in the main hydraulic pump of the elevator, but this should be repaired by the end of October.”
Dordt Facilities is encouraging students to be more careful when cooking to avoid future incidents.
“Being aware of how to properly put out fires is important,” Dorhout said. “There is a difference between putting out a fire in a trash can and a grease fire. To extinguish a grease fire, you can either suffocate the fire with a thick heavy towel or pour baking soda on it, but water (unless in very large amounts like the sprinkler system) will only make things worse.”
While it is common for the campus fire alarms to go off, it is not as often that sprinklers are set off on campus.
“Having the sprinklers activate is rare. To my knowledge, they haven’t been triggered in at least five years,” Dorhout said. “The number one reason for them to be triggered outside of heat is physical damage to the sprinkler head, and smoke will not activate the system, only heat that reaches about 155 degrees Fahrenheit.”
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) states that between 2014-2018, cooking caused 49 percent of all reported home fires in the U.S, and 31 percent of those fires were caused by leaving cooking equipment unattended.
“The number one thing to prevent future fires is to stay with the food and never leave anything unattended when cooking,” Dorhout said.