Only the brick walls of the first floor remained after fire swept thru this 12-unit apartment building in Berrien Springs on August 24. Many of the displaced residents were from the Andrews University community.
BERRIEN SPRINGS — Andrews University student Jeremy Barrett planned to fully move into the Berrien Springs apartment he shared with his sister Sunday morning.
That changed Saturday night when he learned that his apartment was among 12 destroyed by fire at Park Manor Apartments in Berrien Springs.
He said he was leaving a movie with his girlfriend in Grand Rapids when he heard the news.
“I had everything packed, ready to go,” he said Monday while talking with staff at Neighbor To Neighbor in Berrien Springs, a nonprofit that’s helping the people who lost their homes. “... We got out of the movie and my girlfriend was on Facebook and she saw a post and said, ‘Is that your apartment?’”
Both he and his sister, Jenica Barrett, were in Grand Rapids at the time.
“I didn’t lose that much,” he said. “... I lost my mattress ... and a dresser. We also lost a large sectional (sofa) and coffee table, lamps and stuff like that. Kitchen supplies.”
He said his sister lost a lot more because she had moved into the apartment in June to take classes at Andrews University during the summer.
While dealing with the loss and having to find another place to live, he and his sister also started taking classes on Monday.
“I just got out of class before I came here,” he said. His sister was unable to make it because she was still in class.
Barrett said Andrews University is letting them stay in guest housing for a week or so until they find a new place to live, which he is very grateful for.
The siblings went to the apartment building Sunday to see if they could salvage anything.
“We lived on the top floor and it’s completely gone,” he said. “The bottom floor is brick, but the top floor is wood. They salvaged some stuff from the bottom, but the top floor, there’s nothing left.”
He said his sister found pieces of shirts she had and she thinks she found her bed frame.
“We think it’s hers,” he said. “Its a pile of rubble. You can’t really tell.”
Every family has a different story to tell.
Joo Park said he and his wife stayed in one of the apartments on the second floor during the week while working as dental technicians and live in Battle Creek on the weekends. He said they found out their Berrien Springs apartment was gone when a police officer called them late Saturday night.
Park said he couldn’t believe it until he saw it.
“It’s terrible,” he said.
He said they would commute between Berrien Springs and Battle Creek until a new apartment can be found.
Everyone said the community’s support has been overwhelming.
“The community is bending over backwards to help these people,” said Tom Westgate, who works with his wife, Mary Westgate, out of the Stevensville office of the American Red Cross.
He said everyone left homeless by the fire had a place to stay Saturday night with friends, family or church members.
“If every community was like this, that’d be great,” he said.
To donate, go to www.redcross.org/local/michigan/about-us/locations/american-red-cross-of-southwest-michigan.html.
Both the Red Cross and Neighbor To Neighbor are working to help the affected families with their immediate needs, such as with toiletries and an emergency place to stay.
Laura Meyer, executive director of Neighbor To Neighbor, said her nonprofit helps with long-term needs once the families find new places to live. Those needs could include supplying them with new sofas, tables and chairs.
Neighbor To Neighbor usually isn’t open on Sundays. But this past Sunday, Meyer said the nonprofit opened for a couple of hours in the afternoon to help the burned-out families.
More information or to donate can be found at www.n2nhelps.com.
Andrews University sent an email to staff and students saying those affected by the fire can call Campus Safety at 471-3321 to get help.
“Campus Safety will work directly with the vice president for Campus & Student Life and her team to address the needs of our students and employees involved,” the email stated. “... If you wish to assist with a cash donation, please go to andrews.edu/go/give/, use the dropdown menu under ‘I want to invest in,’ and select (or search for) “Other.” Once you’ve selected that, insert “Park Manor Fire Victims” in the “My Instructions” field, and provide your applicable donation information in the subsequent fields.”
The other buildings in the apartment complex are under a boil water notice until at least Wednesday because water had to be shut off at the burned-out building after the fire, said Bill Dustin, public works superintendent for the Village of Berrien Springs.
He said there was no shut-off valve for just the one building, so water to all of them was off for about 12 hours.
“We’re just doing this as a precaution,” he said.
The apartment complex’s manager will be notified when tests come back showing the water is safe, he said.
Article first appeared in the Herald-Palladium and is available here.