Blaze reduces co-op to rubble

BY MELISSA BENTON
Daily Staff Reporter
Published May 31, 2004

Sirens blared at 2 a.m. last Tuesday morning as firefighters
rushed to put out a fire at 816 S. Forest Avenue. Although they
were able to prevent about $500,000 in damage, the A.K. Stevens
Cooperative House was totaled, said Ann Arbor Fire Department
Battalion Chief Chris Brenner.

Janna Hutz
Members of the Ann Arbor Fire Department work to clear rubble after an early-morning fire destroyed the A.K. Stevens co-op located at 816 S. Forest Ave. (JONATHAN NEFF/Daily)
Janna Hutz
The Ann Arbor Fire Department rushes to the scene last week as a fire destroyed the A.K. Stevens Cooperative House on South Forest Avenue. Despite their efforts, the AAFD was unable to save it. (Courtesy of Pierre Bull)

AAFD was notified of the fire by a 911 call, and although they
reacted immediately, Brenner said the fire moved quickly. “We
were there within three minutes, and the flames were through the
roof,” he said.

The fire penetrated the attic in a house on the south side of
the co-op, causing about $70,000 in damages, Fire Marshall Ron
Heemstra said.

He added that severe heat cracked windows in the neighboring
Alpha Chi Omega sorority house to the north and damaged four
vehicles.

The cause of the fire has been listed as undetermined, said lead
investigator Gretchen Virlee. Investigators have turned the site
over to contractors that were renovating the house, she added.

Due to the renovations, the house was vacant and most of the
electric was turned off at the time of the fire, Heemstra said.

“The irony of it was that we were replacing the old wiring
to prevent a fire,” said Sheila Ritter, general manager of
the Inter-Cooperative Council. A.K. Stevens was the first co-op
purchased by ICC in 1943.

Although the damage and losses totaled more than $300,000, no
one was injured, said Brenner. Because the house was demolished,
determining the cause of the fire is not an easy task, said AAPD
Detective Kevin Warner.

“The problem is that it was initially a three-story
structure, and it collapsed inward so that increases the difficulty
of establishing the point of origin,” Warner said, and added
that if the house was still standing, investigators could locate
the starting point more easily by looking for areas in the house
that suffered the most damage.

Because there is nothing left, however, all the investigators
can do is turn it over to the contractors, Warner said.

Although no one was currently living in the house, Ritter said
there were people scheduled to live there in the fall. ICC will be
talking with these individuals since they can no longer honor their
housing contracts, but will provide 18 other co-ops where the
residents can choose to live.

Former residents of the A.K. Stevens co-op were shocked when
they learned of the fire. University alumna Katie Powell looked in
disbelief at the “smoking stack” that used to be her
room.

“This is really insane. I lived here on and off for three
years,” said Powell.

Benjamin Ayer, a freshman at Washtenaw Community College,
expressed similar feelings as he stared at the charred
rainbow-colored steps.

“I hung out on that porch every night,” he said.
Ayer, who also lived in an ICC co-op, said several of his friends
lived in A.K. Stevens.

“I lived down the street at Black Elk. One of my old
housemates moved in (to A.K. Stevens) and fixed it all up. She put
a lot of work into it,” he added.

Ritter said she hopes the ICC will rebuild the house because it
has been a part of the community for 60 years.

“A lot of people loved it … we don’t want to
see that legacy go away,” she said.