Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Fire Marshall: Multiple Fires at Theta Chi Intentionally Started

No one was injured after multiple fires were intentionally started at Theta Chi fraternity house early Friday morning, East Lansing Fire Marshal Bob Pratt said.

All accidental causes of the fire have been ruled out, Pratt said.

The fire was contained to one room after an automatic sprinkler system at the house turned on. Without the sprinkler system, the fire could have ended in tragedy, Pratt said.

“We dodged a bullet here,” Pratt said. “Had the building not been (protected by) sprinklers, there very easily could’ve been multiple deaths.”

The fraternity was holding a party at the house on 453 Abbot Road when the building caught on fire, Pratt said. Firefighters first responded at about 1a.m.

Three people were arrested Friday morning for crossing barricades firefighters set up, East Lansing police Capt. Kim Johnson said.

One member of the fraternity was arrested for minor in possession, Johnson said.

Numerous members of Theta Chi declined comment when contacted by The State News.

During the fire investigation, multiple smoke detectors were found with cut wires, and some completely were removed, he said.

Tampering with fire protection devices is a criminal offense, and Pratt said he will issue citations to the fraternity.

Pratt also said several people refused to evacuate the building, or could not because they were incapacitated.

Some occupants were so intoxicated they remained unconscious even as the fire alarms were sounding, he said.

Some of the sprinkler heads also had been covered up and used as clothing racks, Pratt said.

The property consistently passes a yearly inspection by city officials, said Michael Lomonaco, a board member and Theta Chi alumnus.

The alumni own and manage the property on 453 Abbot Road.

The house last was inspected on July 15 and found in compliance with housing requirements by the East Lansing Department of Code Enforcement and Neighborhood Conservation.

“Just like any other … rental property, we adhere to a rather vigorous inspection,” Lomonaco said. “The safety of the guys living there is our No. 1priority.”

All the members were forced to stay with friends last night or find other sleeping arrangements during the investigation.

The exact cost of damage to the home has not yet been estimated, but will be substantial because of water damage from the sprinkler system and damage from firemen breaking doors in their attempts to evacuate occupants, Pratt said.

No damage to the home was visible from the outside.

Once the sprinkler system is reset and the smoke detectors are functioning, Theta Chi members can live in the house in a few days, Pratt said.
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