Marquette student homeless after Pizza Man fire

Olson ‘living out of his car’ since Tuesday morning

Not the sirens and emergency vehicle lights, not the plumes of smoke or reporters at the scene, but a phone call from his mother is how Matthew Olson discovered his East Side apartment building had been destroyed by a four-alarm blaze early Tuesday morning.

The fire started at 3:33 a.m. in the building at 1800 E. North Ave., home to apartments and several businesses including popular restaurant hangout Pizza Man. Olson, a senior in the College of Engineering, was in the Marquette area that night and not in his apartment when the fire started. He first learned of the fire when his parents called Tuesday morning to make sure he was safe.

The fire was not declared to be under control until almost 9 a.m. All occupants of the building were evacuated and nobody was injured in the blaze. The building also housed the nightclub CUSH Lounge, the restaurant Grecian Delight and the Black and White Cafe.

Investigators have not yet said what caused the fire. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives plans to send a response team to assist Milwaukee fire investigators, due to the immensity of the fire, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“It was kind of surreal. It was like, ‘It’s not really happening to me, is it?’” Olson said. “I went down there and it was hard to watch it burn down, too, knowing there was nothing you could do about it.”

Olson’s notes, books and computer were lost in the fire. He had lived in the apartment for about a year.

“Basically my entire life was in there from college,” he said.

Olson said he and friends have talked to department chairs in the College of Engineering to see if there was anything they could do to help.

“They just said, ‘Make sure if you’ve missed any classes, make up any work,’” Olson said.

He said he is now essentially living out of his car.

“It’s one of those things that happens,” Olson said. “It’s just stuff. Stuff can be re-bought, buildings can be re-built, but people can’t be brought back. It’s a tragic thing that it happened but at least nobody got hurt.”