For Samuel Massari, a fifth-year in computer science and engineering, Sunday morning’s wake up call came a little sooner than expected.
“We all were asleep, and somebody was pounding on our doors and windows. We assumed it was drunk kids so I went out to tell them to stop,” he said.
That’s when Massari realized there was no joke, but rather a fire that would later temporarily evict him from his off-campus residence.
“When I opened the door, there was a guy standing there saying I needed to get out, and I looked behind him and the whole porch was ablaze,” he said.
That off-campus apartment fire — which forced a dozen Ohio State students from their residences early Sunday morning — wasn’t an accident, the landlord of the property said.
Bryan Dulle, 1st Place Realty landlord, said three pedestrians saw a white man set fire to a couch on the front porch of his property at 1706 E. Summit St. at about 3 a.m. on Sunday.
“It appears that it was definitely arson,” he said.
Dulle said the fire started with the couch on the porch but spread to other parts of the building.
Shortly after the fire started, Stephanie Connaughton, a fourth-year in nutrition in industry, called 911 after noticing the flames while at a neighbor’s home.
“The fire started small. I thought just a grill maybe caught fire,” Connaughton said in an email. “Within minutes the entire porch was torched and the fire rapidly expanded through the upper floors. The fire made large smacking sounds, really scary. A small crowd of ppl (sic) were standing on the sidewalk merely watching. Some in bathrobes, a couple girls were crying. People also spectated from their porches throughout the street.”
Meanwhile, Matt Duplin, a fifth-year in industrial engineering who lives across the street, said his roommates called him outside to see what was going on.
That’s when Duplin and two others decided to run into the burning building to make sure people like Massari were getting out safely.
“We ran in and just started pounding on doors and screaming for people to get up, ‘cause it was three in the morning,” Duplin said. “It was a very terrifying and rapid-moving fire.”
Although he approximated he was only in the building for about 20 seconds, Duplin said the conditions were nearly unbearable.
“I went to the left side where the fire hadn’t really spread. You couldn’t see very well, it was very hazy, and I had to put my shirt up over my face because I couldn’t breathe,” he said.
Dulle said three of the four units have smoke damage as a result of the fire, and the other unit is even worse.
“The front porch is gone,” Dulle said. “And one unit — we’re talking a lot of damage.”
Dulle said the cost of the damage had not yet been determined as of Sunday afternoon.
Massari — who lives at the 1708 E. Summit St. side of the apartment duplex — said he thought the fire damage could have been a lot worse.
“Our rooms all just had smoke and soot damage. Everything was covered in a layer of soot and there was some damage from them trudging through to try and take care of everything,” he said. “The front TV was melted — it looked like a candle. The front and top of it was melted completely down to the bottom.”
Because of the damage, 12 OSU students were relocated from the apartment, Columbus Division of Fire Battalion Chief Tracy Smith said.
Student Life spokesman Dave Isaacs said in a Sunday email that Student Life Student Advocacy Center is working with students impacted by the fire to help them find alternative housing. He said the center is working to notify instructors of the situation and will assist in other long- and short-term assistance as needed.
Massari said he’s already found a temporary place to reside.
“Right now we’re at Buckeye Village. They (the center) found us a place. They pretty much set us up with clothes, linens and stuff,” he said.
Smith said investigators had not determined a cause of the fire as of Sunday morning. She said the fire is still under investigation.
Nobody was injured in the fire, Dulle said.
“The first thing (going through my mind), of course, was no one was hurt, and I was relieved,” he said.
The Red Cross was called to the scene to help the tenants find a place to stay, a Columbus Fire dispatcher said.
Dulle said no one has been arrested in connection to the fire.
Correction: Oct. 26, 2014. Photo captions from an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date of the fire as Oct. 18 when in fact, the fire occurred Oct. 19.