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

Ashley Dinges
Fire Marshall Ron Heemstra, Fire Inspector Gretchen Virlee and AAPD Detective Kevin Warner examine the charred remnants of the A.K. Stevens Cooperative House on South Forest Avenue after a fire destroyed the residence early this morning. The house was v

The 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 added.

The fire spread to neighboring homes and vehicles and 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 nearby Alpha
Chi Omega sorority house to the north and damaged four
vehicles.

The cause of the fire is undetermined, but the case is still
under investigation, Heemstra said. Due to the renovations,
however, most of the electricity was shut off in the house at the
time of the fire, he added.

Although there is more than $300,000 in total losses,
fortunately no one was injured, said Brenner. The three houses were
vacant at the time, Heemstra said.

The A.K. Stevens Cooperative House was being renovated, so it
has been empty for the past month.

“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.

The Michigan State Police were called to help with the
investigation, along with detectives from the Ann Arbor Police
Department.

Because the house was totaled, determining the cause of the fire
will not be an easy task, said Detective Kevin Warner with the
AAPD.

“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.

He 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.

Although no one was currently living in the house, Ritter said
there were people scheduled to live there in the fall. The ICC will
be talking with these individuals since they can no longer honor
their housing contracts. But, the ICC does own 18 other cooperative
houses where the residents can choose to live.

Former residents of the A.K. Stevens Cooperative House were
shocked when they learned of the fire.

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

Benjamin Ayer, a freshman at Washtenaw Community College,
expressed similar feelings of sadness as he stared at the remains
of the house and its rainbow-colored steps.

“I hung out on that porch every night,” he said.

Although Ayer did not live in the house, he had several friends
that lived there.

“I lived down the street at Black Elk (another co-op owned by
the ICC). 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 hopes the ICC will be able to rebuild the house because
it has been a part of the community for 60 years, and many people
are attached to it.

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

The A.K. Stevens Cooperative House was the first house the ICC
purchased in 1943.

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