Off-campus house fires attract concerned students and neighbors


Firefighters rush in to put out the truck on fire on the northeast corner of 35th Street and 12th Avenue on Sunday, March 8, 2020. Photo by Christopher Ferman

Natalie McMillan

Two houses, a garage and a truck caught fire near the northeast corner of 35th St. and 12th Ave. around 5:30 to 5:45 p.m. on March 8. Flames surged up from the corner and smoke engulfed most of Augustana’s campus, which was downwind of the fire. Bystanders flocked to the scene and nearby areas to figure out what was happening.
First-year Henry Webb said, “We ran with everyone else over to the Quad by the CSL and we were trying to figure out where it could be coming from.” 

Augie students watch from the quad with concern as smoke rises from the beyond the Slough on Sunday, March 8, 2020. Photo by Christopher Ferman.

“I at first thought it was the library,” junior Kaitlyn Watkins stated, “but then I realized it was further off in the distance.”
“Everyone else decided to go on,” Webb said, “but as we were going back, we noticed that it was basically raining ash.”
Junior Alexander Lunde was one of the bystanders who went to the fire. Lunde stated that the smoke interrupted his club’s meeting, drawing the members there. 
“I first thought it was from Swanson or Westerlin,” Lunde said. “So we ran up the Swanie bridge, smoke everywhere, and luckily it wasn’t either of those buildings, it was roughly in between.”
President Steven Bahls was present at the scene talking with some neighbors and public saftey.
Augustana public safety officer Jeff Bell was one of the first to the scene. According to Bell, he was on his normal patrol route when he saw the smoke. However, Bell could hear sirens as he was calling it in.
Rock Island Fire Department (RIFD) responded with 4 engines. Rock Island Arsenal Fire Department also sent an engine to help fight the flames. 
Bell stated it took about 3 minutes after he arrived for all the trucks to be there. 
Senior Emily Fulk, who lives a few houses down from the northeast corner, was one of the first people aware of the fire.
“I heard what sounded like firecrackers, and thought it was just people having fun,” Fulk said. “All of a sudden, I hear a bunch of people start yelling at each other and I think ‘maybe it’s not firecrackers,’ so I get up and look out and a bunch of kids are running back into their houses, and I see a firetruck pass by.
“I look out, and there’s smoke everywhere down on the corner of the street at 12th and 35th, so I ran downstairs and my roommates were already on the porch.”
According to Bell, neither of the houses’ residents were present during the fire.
When he arrived at the scene, Bell stated he witnessed two children, a girl and a boy, run into the brown house next to the garage. He notified the fire department when they arrived. 
However, according to Fulk and one of her roommates senior Elizabeth Ensley, the couple that lives in the brown house don’t have kids, just a puppy
Both roommates expressed concern for the pets in the house.
“I know the house that the truck was parked in front of has a golden retriever,” Ensley said, “I haven’t seen a dog come out, and the house next door has a pitbull, a little pup. I let the firefighter know and he said, ‘Thanks’ and then went into the house. So I’m assuming if the dog was present, the dogs have been taken out.”
According to firefighter Dean Hassleroth, no dogs or kids were found and no one was hurt in the fire.
The Social Media and Public Relations Specialist at Augustana, Kirby Stockwell, sent a statement to the Observer. “RIFD has since put the fires out and are now treating hot spots,” Stockwell said. 
Stockwell advised the Augustana community to stay away from the scene.
“Please avoid this area as fire crews are working to control the blaze,” Stockwell said. “Please close windows as there is heavy smoke throughout the campus area.”

Carly Davis and Christopher Ferman contributed to this article.