GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Investigators with the Grand Rapids Fire Department say a candle burning too close to a blanket caused the fire that damaged an apartment complex over the weekend.
The fire happened at The Preserve at Woodland Apartments on Valleywood Drive SE, north of Woodland Mall. The Grand Rapids fire marshal says it say it sparked in an upper-floor apartment around 1:45 a.m. Sunday, shortly after the resident came home from work.
“He lit a candle and placed it on an end table and then fell asleep. He woke up to his blanket being on fire at his feet,” Marshal Ric Dokter said.
Smoke detectors woke the resident and others in the complex.
“Could have been a lot worse outcome if he hadn’t had smoke alarms in the apartment,” Dokter said.
Two third-floor residents who heard the alarms go off told 24 Hour News 8 they opened their door and tried getting down the hallway, but they couldn’t see or breathe. Brothers and roommates Brendon and Luke Enders grabbed their dog, held their breath and managed to feel their way down three flights of stairs to safety.
Several other residents were forced out on their balconies, awaiting rescue by firefighters, who arrived less than five minutes after getting the call.
But how could such a small fire grow so quick and cause so much havoc? Two mistakes that firefighters say are common during the fear and confusion of even a small fire contributed to the quick spread.
First, the resident of the apartment where the fire started tried to put the fire out before calling 911.
“Even a small fire, because fire can grow unexpectedly fast. Most people don’t realize how fast a fire can grow,” Dokter said. “They think, ‘Well, it’s not very big. I’ll try to put it out.’ By the time they get around to calling 911, the fire has grown beyond what it could have been.”
The other mistake is one of the last things most of us would probably think of when escaping a dangerous fire: People often forget to close the door behind them when they flee.
Opened doors allow smoke and flames to spread, and that smoke can quickly obscure the way for others.
That was the case Sunday morning. Firefighters say the resident of the apartment on fire left without closing the door behind him.
“The smoke filled the corridor, and that’s why probably some of the people couldn’t have escaped the normal way they would, and ended up going out on their balconies to be rescued by our people,” Dokter said.
In all, 20 people were home when the fire broke out. Seven had to be rescued. Twelve apartments in the unit were damaged. Only one person was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.