Tuesday, February 24, 2009

LDS Missionaries Joe Bolke And Matt Simpson Participate In Rescue Effort In Silver Lake Hills Apartment Fire In Fenton, Michigan

Two missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been hailed as heroes for their efforts to rescue several people from the burning apartment complex in Fenton, Michigan, where they were living while serving a mission in the area.

Both KUTV Channel 2 and KSL Channel 5 in Salt Lake City have focused their stories on Elder Joe Bolke, from Cottonwood Heights, Utah. During the early morning hours of Friday February 13th, Elder Bolke and his companion, Elder Matt Simpson, found their complex ablaze. Elder Simpson, who hails from Reno, Nevada, had moved in to the first-floor apartment just a few days prior and said he woke up when sparks from the vinyl siding began shooting past his window. "God woke me up," he said. They dashed outside without their shoes into the cold Michigan night and started yelling to get others awake. Their quick thinking helped save lives at the apartment complex, including a mother and her 7-week-old baby, who had to be lifted from a second-floor balcony. They placed themselves in harm's way, along with other rescuers - as they worked, the building's vinyl siding was dripped melting plastic down.

A February 13th story in the Flint News provides more harrowing details about the fire itself, which first erupted around 3:30 A.M. on February 13th at the Silver Lake Hills Apartment Complex in Fenton. Many people escaped with only the clothes on the back - some even left behind wallets and keys. The aforementioned mother and baby were the only casualties; they were hospitalized with burns, but are expected to fully recover.

You can see the sheer magnitude of the destruction in the above photograph. According to a February 18th story in the Tri-County Times, there were 18 apartment units, 15 of which were occupied, in the 3500 building that were involved in the fire. All apartments were either burned or suffered smoke and water damage. Several vehicles were severely damaged from the heat. According to apartment management, units had working smoke detectors and sprinkler systems.

There were 27 people living in the building and all residents have been able to obtain alternate housing. The fire chief said the estimated dollar loss is still being figured at this time and the fire remains under investigation with the Michigan State Police.

Fire investigators believe the fire began in an exterior stairwell on the west end of the building. Fire Chief Robert Cairnduff said he has heard plenty of rumors that the fire was caused by an arsonist. He said at this early stage, arson cannot be ruled out, but explained that fire investigators are leaning more toward an accidental cause. Samples of debris from where the fire is believed to have started was collected and is being analyzed to determine if any accelerants were used.

And the community opened their hearts and their wallets up so wide that on February 23rd, WJRT Channel 12 reports that the apartment management can no longer accept any more aid, because they have too much. People donated enough to fill the complex clubhouse and two apartments. The complex is donating the surplus to area churches and other charities.

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