A fire erupted at a house near campus on the evening of Aug. 21.
The fire began on the back porch, according to Hillsdale Police and Fire Chief Scott Hephner, and spread to the interior of the house. The home is located at 27 Mead St., at the intersection with Union Street.
“As soon as I left the building with the engine and turned the corner on Union, you could see the header of smoke. It was good and going,” said Hillsdale Fire Engineer Matt Halleck, who was first to arrive on the scene. “The entire back portion of the residence was on fire.”
Hephner said that the fire department started fighting the blaze on the back porch, before the fire moved inside the house through a wall. He said the fire department quickly extinguished the flames.
Halleck said that upon arrival, firefighters began by stretching a hose to the hydrant. After attaching the hydrant, firefighters took hoses and extinguished the flames from multiple angles. One firefighter helped put out the blaze from the exterior, Halleck said, while other firefighters went inside to stop the fire from spreading to the rest of the building.
Senior Essie Molloy is a student at the college. Molloy says the night of the fire, she was with her roommate when they heard an explosion. They ran out into the street to see what had happened.
“We heard a woman come out to the road and she was really upset, and she was exclaiming, ‘My whole life is in there!’ Then we ran out to see what it was, and that’s when we saw the smoke. We ran across the street to make sure she didn’t need anything. They were okay, and they’d already called 911.”
Professor Emeritus Sam Knecht, former professor of art, lives across the street from the house. Knecht said in an email that the night of the fire, one of his daughters announced the house across the street was in flames, at which point he went to see for himself.
“Fire trucks had arrived and were busy getting hoses hooked up to nearby hydrants. Quite a number of bystanders had assembled and all could see a fair amount of smoke rising up from behind the house, its north side,” Knecht said. “At one point we could see some flames above the roofline. However it did not appear that the whole house was aflame inside.”
Knecht said fire trucks came not only from Hillsdale, but also from nearby towns. He also said that numerous firefighters arrived at the scene in their personal vehicles.
Hephner explained that this response was part of an aid agreement between the city of Jonesville and the city of Hillsdale.
He said when there is a structure fire in Jonesville, the Hillsdale Fire Department is automatically called to assist. If there is a structure fire in Hillsdale, he said, the Jonesville Fire Department is called to assist with that as well.
Hephner said that this agreement is to ensure both cities have substantial manpower to deal with a fire, should it get out of control.
“You’re talking a heat amount like that, and in our city residential areas, the houses are pretty close together. Worst case scenario, fire starts jumping houses,” Hephner said. “We just want to make sure we have the appropriate amount of equipment and manpower at the scene.”
Knecht said he has spoken with the owner of the house, Carl Burroughs, many times throughout the years.
“The owner and principal occupant of the house, Carl, is someone with whom I have chatted off and on over the years of being neighbors,” Knecht said. “He is a decent fellow.”
According to Knecht, a couple days after the fire, he was speaking with Burroughs when a college student approached him.
“One of the college young ladies who resides in the new apartment house across the street from the burned house walked over and expressed condolences to Carl from all the women in her residence and she handed him a sealed card. I don’t know if the women had passed the hat; Carl didn’t open the card at the time,” Knecht said. “But regardless it was a kind and generous gesture on their part and speaks well of Hillsdale College students and their behavior in the community.”
Those students were Molloy and her roommates. Molloy said that at the time of the fire, Burroughs was renting rooms out to several tenants, so he lost a source of income.
“We wrote a card for him, and put a little money in because we figured he wouldn’t be getting any income for a while.” She said, “He just seems like a really nice guy, so it’s the least we could do.”