Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Apartment fire changes perspectives, still under investigation by the State Fire Marshal

The fire displaced 21 students

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

By Jon Decker, Collegian Correspondent

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On Sunday, April 29, a fire broke out at 285 Main Street, just across the street from the historical Emily Dickinson house. The fire displaced 21 residents, mostly seniors at the University of Massachusetts, and left one man with serious injuries.

In addition to a local investigation, the Massachusetts State Fire Marshal is looking into the origin of the fire, which has yet to be determined. According to Jennifer Mieth, public information officer for the office of the State Fire Marshal, not every fire in the state requires their involvement, and the agency utilizes “specially trained” Massachusetts state police officers to aid local departments in the investigation.

Megan Kacenski, Sarah Fox and Allison Micka are three UMass students who called 285 Main Street home. For them, the fire came just two weeks before graduation.

“It was a hell of an experience to go through,” Kacenski said, describing the immediate aftermath of the fire. “It hasn’t been a week yet, since this has all happened. It feels like it’s been months. These days have just been incredibly long.”

But despite the long days, the University’s response has been swift, according to Fox.

“The UMass Dean of Students emailed all of us around, I want to say, 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. I called him around eight in the morning, and he was already calling all the different resources on campus,” Fox said.

Eighteen students were given housing in North Apartments on campus. As for Kacenski, Fox and Allison, they were able to get rooms in their sorority house, Sigma Delta Tau. Of the 21 residents, Kacenski, Fox and Micka are the only members of Greek life. Luckily for them, there were three open rooms and three parking spaces.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Micka said.

In addition to the help from the University and Sigma Delta Tau, donations were made to the displaced residents. A collection of these donated items sat in the SDT living room.

The fire has also brought a shift in perspective to these three students.

“For me in particular, it kind of makes you realize that material items are not important,” Kacenski said, “The only thing that isn’t replaceable is us; everything else is replaceable.”

When asked about more details and rumors surrounding the origins of the fire, all three students declined to comment, stating that the investigation is still underway. Updates on the investigation will be shared with the Collegian via the state fire marshal public affairs office.

Jon Decker can be reached at [email protected]

3 Comments

3 Responses to “Apartment fire changes perspectives, still under investigation by the State Fire Marshal”

  1. Ed Cutting, Ed.D. on May 5th, 2018 3:10 pm

    It would be nice if the town (and university) held the local landlords to the same standards that they hold the students — fair’s fair, isn’t it?

    The fact the State Fire Marshal is investigating makes me think that there is a possible serious code violation here, possibly something involving either gas or electricity. (Or they suspect arson.)

    There are lots and lots of really questionable apartments in Amherst and if the university is going to expel students for having loud parties (and it does) then it also needs to expel landlords. If UMass is going to exercise off-campus jurisdiction over students as the military does, then it needs to exercise a protective role and declare certain rental companies “off limits” for student rentals.

    Not just the owners (of which there are many) but the agents, of which there now are less than a dozen. Yes, less than a dozen people control the rental market in Amherst, and by excluding one of them from the student market for a year — after being accorded the same due process rights that students are (aren’t) — it would show that it actually cares about student wellbeing.

    Imagine if Slumlords R Us were told that they couldn’t rent to any UMass student as of September 1st — imagine if they were excluded from the housing fair and the rest. You wouldn’t have to do this twice to see a major improvement in the conditions of Amherst rental housing.

    The thing I learned working in public housing was that many Amherst landlords (including three of the major players) don’t rent Section 8 because those units have to meet minimum standards for human habitation. Instead, they rent to students — who will take what they can get.

    Well, where is UMass in this????

  2. Ed Cutting, Ed.D. on May 5th, 2018 3:21 pm

    And one other thing: UMass had 18 vacancies in North Apartments?!?
    Isn’t there a waiting list to get in there?

  3. john aimo on May 5th, 2018 10:14 pm

    Wow it must be an arson investigation. Our community is so wonderful; in one week, there is a floater/dead body found, an apartment burns down and a slasher(knife) attack on the PVTA bus.

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