Kentwood apt. fire takes financial toll on renters

Kent County

KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — Fire investigators in Kentwood are working to find the cause of an early Saturday morning blaze that destroyed an apartment building, sending nearly 40 residents out into the cold.

No one was injured in the fire at Wingate Apartments near 32nd Street and Shaffer Avenue. Investigators say the flames sparked in a third-floor apartment bedroom. They hope to have a determination on the cause later this week but say that so far, it looks accidental.

Resident Austin Webster salvaged what he could from his third-floor apartment, including his vinyl record collection.

“‘Led Zeppelin IV,’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s,’ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 2’ — they all seem to be OK,” he said, sorting through some of the albums on his parents’ kitchen table. “The ceiling collapsed. Fortunately, these were under a table.”

Webster was lucky Saturday. While the fire started just a few doors down from his apartment, he wasn’t home. And while most of his belonging are gone, he has renters insurance.

“My mom used to work in insurance and ever since college, she says you need to have renters insurance,” Webster said.

Many of his neighbors were not as fortunate. The West Michigan chapter of the American Red Cross says of the nearly 40 Wingate residents they’re assisting, about 75 percent don’t have renters insurance.

“We see this way more that we’d ever like to see,” Nikki Salladay, disaster program manager for the local Red Cross, said.>>PDF: Red Cross on renters insurance

The problem is not unique to West Michigan. Insurance industry estimates show only about 37 percent of renters have insurance. Some don’t think they need it, some don’t know about it and some worry about the cost, which averages $12 per month.

“For folks who have auto insurance or any other type of insurance, you can often put those things together and for less than $40, $60 bucks a year, you can insure most of what you have,” Salladay said.

Many apartment complexes require renters to carry liability insurance, but that is not the same as renters insurance.

Webster said in the grand scheme of things, what he lost in the fire was just stuff. But because he has renters insurance, the financial effect is one less thing to worry about.

“Furniture, all my kitchen equipment, TV, turntables, stereo — it all adds up,” he said. “And it’s one thing to buy it over the course of 10 years, but to replace everything, it’s a big chunk of change.”

The Red Cross also offers a fire safety program. Operation Sound the Alarm sends Red Cross volunteers into the neighborhoods and not only provides free smoke detectors, but also helps families put together a plan if they have a fire.

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