All residents survive Kilbourn house fire

While most students wandered home from a late night at the bars or packed in sleep cycles before the new week ahead, the residents of 1503 W. Kilbourn Ave. scrambled for their safety early Monday morning. The nine residents weren’t escaping obnoxious drunks or dwindling happy hours.

They ran from smoke.

Nick Chmurski, a senior in the College of Business Administration and resident of the Cedar Square-managed house since June 2009, was returning from a typical night out with his roommates at Caffrey’s Pub. Around 2:30 a.m. on Monday, he arrived at the house he shared with eight roommates, most of whom were already in bed, when he thought he smelled something foreign.

“I was dressed for bed when I started to smell the smoke,” Chmurski said.

He proceeded to check the stove and oven on the second floor of the house.  Finding nothing, he woke a couple roommates who confirmed the smell of smoke.

“I walked back down the stairs I had just come up, and immediately saw thick, black smoke rushing up the stairs,” he said.

The smoke detectors in the house had failed to activate at this point, Chmurski said.

Two of the roommates, Jeff Kinsella and Sean Flowers, attempted to extinguish the fire from the basement where they thought it originated but were forced to vacate due to overpowering smoke.  All nine tenants and one tenant’s girlfriend were able to safely exit the house without injury.

Chmurski, who ran back into the house to retrieve some clothing, came out to find the Department of Public Safety first on the scene.  He didn’t know who had contacted the authorities but felt both lucky and relieved. The Milwaukee Fire Department and Police Department arrived shortly after.

DPS was unavailable for comment at press time.

Sal Bando, Cedar Square managing partner, said the city fire inspector estimated the property damage to be around $20,000. He also reported that MPD ruled out a fire caused by gas or electrical complications, leaving the cause “undetermined.”

“I am just very grateful that a couple roommates were still awake,” Bando said. “The effects could have been devastating.”

Though the fire’s exact origin is still unknown, Chmurski believes it was an electrical fire starting in the basement and creeping up the back stairs inside the walls of the unit. Firefighters were forced to demolish walls in the upstairs and downstairs kitchens to completely put out the fire.

Left without a home on a frenzied morning in the January cold, all nine tenants were able to find friends willing to give them a lending hand and place to stay the night. Chmurski noted the overwhelming support they received all Monday to help move their belongings saying, “We are so incredibly fortunate to have these good friends to help us.”

No personal property was damaged from the fire, but the house will not be ready for use until June. The tenants have all moved into the Cedar Square studio apartments at 928 N. 15th St. where they will pay the same rent as before, Bando said. They each received an e-mail and phone call of concern from the university Wednesday afternoon offering support.