Cause of fire remains under investigation

Owner says he is not at fault for apartment fire.

Posted on Oct. 3, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Firefighters are still investigating the cause of a fire that sent two people to the hospital and destroyed two apartments Tuesday morning.

According to a report from the Elkhart Fire Department, the cause is still under investigation. What officials heard from witnesses points to the idea that the fire may have had a suspicious cause.

The Elkhart Fire Department was called around 6:45 a.m. to 313 Union St., where it took five fire engines, one aerial and 30 minutes to get the fire under control.

Chief Chris said the fire call came during shift change, so extra firefighters helped at the scene.

“We had the major fire knocked down within 10 minutes,” he said.

Elkhart Fire Investigator Rob Smith said he found a gas can while cleaning out the rear apartment on the first floor. They determined the living room of that apartment was the origin of the fire. He said they also collected a backpack from behind a nearby dumpster, which witnesses said a man dropped before running from the scene.

Smith said that according to witnesses, a man and two women were arguing prior to the fire. According the fire report, three people lived in the lower apartment: Drew Williams, Jennifer Mullins and Stephanie Sandusky.

Sandusky was transported to the Bronson Regional Burn Center in Kalamazoo, where she was listed as in fair condition Tuesday night. Mullins was also taken to a hospital.

All other occupants of the apartments, about five of them, were able to escape.

Annette Harris said she woke up in her upstairs apartment when she heard yelling. She looked out her window and saw flames coming out of the downstairs apartment in the rear of the building.

“They came and rescued me,” she said of firefighters. Her cat got out too, she said. They got her out of her second-floor window.

Terry Garber, who lived in the upstairs apartment, said he and his wife lost everything except two bags of clothes. They have moved in temporarily with Garber’s brother.

“We’re just going to continue working, save money and get another (apartment),” he said.

He was out working when the fire started. His wife, Donna Garber, was in the apartment. “I woke up and heard somebody screaming.” She got out of the building.

Though optimistic, Terry Garber looks back to the tragedy the fire could have caused.

“I could’ve lost my wife because of this.”

Other apartments and a laundromat facing Franklin Street only had some smoke damage and some windows broke, where the firefighters tried to open to rescue all the residents.

Steve Pletcher, who has owned the building for about 11 years, said he heard after the fire from different tenants about the suspicious activity going on in the apartment.

“I’m having a sneaking suspicion somebody was cooking meth in there,” he said.

After talking with the fire department about their investigation, Pletcher knew the cause had nothing to do with the apartment’s maintenance.

“There was no fault in my building,” he said. “Somebody was doing something in the building that caused the fire.”


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