As of 3 p.m. firefighters were still dousing small hotspots while an excavation crew removed debris from a vacant house on Church Street, which caught fire early this morning.
The fire was ruled “under control” at about 6:00 a.m. according to Ann Arbor Fire Department Battalion Chief Kevin Cook.
No one was injured in the fire.
Earlier this morning at about 3 a.m., flames were billowing out of windows on all three floors of a newly-erected house on Church Street, between Oakland Avenue and Hill Street.
Firefighters were not able to identify the cause of the fire in the vacant house as of 3 p.m, according to AAFD Inspector Reka Farrackand. The cause of the fire may not be known until tomorrow when crews finish excavating the area.
“I would have liked to known by now, but they’re still digging it out,” Farrackand said.
Gas and electric lines – but no furnaces – had recently been installed in the house, which was to be completed by May, said Chris Koulouras, the building’s owner.
Temporary electrical lines were also run to the building for construction, he said.
A sprinkler system had been installed but was not yet functional.
Crowds of students in bar attire and pajamas watching the blaze from across the street whooped and hollered as ashes flew into the air and fire licked the roof.
Officers of the Ann Arbor Police Department cordoned off the entire block with fire trucks and police cars to keep onlookers away from the area. As thick smoke poured through the crowd, officers ushered students farther away.
AAFD firefighter Steven Lowe said the building was on fire when fire trucks arrived at the scene at about 3 a.m. A 911 call was made when a resident of a nearby building spotted smoke.
Concerned the fire might spread to adjacent structures, police evacuated the residents living in the houses directly on each side of the building. While the house directly south of the fire was not damaged, the house on the north side suffered from smoke and heat damage, firefighters said. The student tenants of both buildings were allowed back into their homes late this morning.
When they first arrived on the scene, firefighters attempted to make sure that no one was trespassing inside the burning house.
“Some crews tried to go in to find out if people were in there, but they pulled out pretty rapidly because of the chance the building might buckle,” Lowe said.
At about 3:45 a.m., the rear corner of the building collapsed. While the tone was lighthearted for some students as they excitedly took out their cell phones to take pictures, others took the situation more seriously.
“That’s my house! Where am I going to live?” said LSA junior Steven Hakim, as he watched the third-story apartment unit he planned to live in collapse. Hakim signed a lease to live in the unit beginning in May.
Because firefighters had to extinguish the fire from outside the building from the air and ground, Cook said the two-hour timeframe was longer than typical. He praised the crews efforts, noting that no one was injured.
The house, located at 922 Church Street, which had been under construction for over seven months, was divided into four apartment units – each designed for six occupants.
The house was advertised as the “newest unit” on the management company, A2 4 Rent’s website.
Koulouras said tenants who already signed contracts for the spring will receive full refunds. Koulouras said he is not sure how construction will proceed until the extent of the damage is determined.
“The fire department hasn’t made a decision,” Koulouras said. “The question becomes if the other sections are damaged.”
Cook said the while the entire building suffered from extensive water and fire damage, only one of the four units collapsed. The other three units remained standing because of a fire protection wall, which contained the fire to the northwest corner of the building.
The Office of the Dean of Students offers emergency assistance and temporary shelter for students following critical incidents like this morning’s fire. Students in need of assistance are asked to call 734-764-7420.
– Daily News Editor Lisa Haidostian contributed to this report.