One of the residents of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house was nearly unconscious and trapped inside the burning main living area when fire crews arrived early Saturday morning, officials said.
“He was somewhat conscious,” said Ann Arbor fire Battalion Chief Steve Lowe. “He took quite a bit of smoke. He couldn’t find the doorway to go out. They found him in a corner.”
Ann Arbor fire Battalion Chief Kevin Cook said the resident was "dazed and confused."
"(Firefighters) picked him up and walked him out," Cook said.
Crews responding to the fire at 1408 Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor at 5:37 a.m. helped the resident out, as well as three others suffering from smoke inhalation. The four residents were taken to the University of Michigan Hospital in stable condition and have since been released, according to Lowe.
Firefighters assisted 20 remaining people out of the back of the house.
“We went door to door and floor to floor and evacuated the building,” Cook said.
The students were disoriented from being awakened and many of them were not dressed for the frigid temperatures.
A U-M bus was brought to the scene and used as a warming center. The American Red Cross was also at the house Saturday morning helping those affected by the fire. All of the residents will be displaced for the time being, officials said. There were no residents at the house at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Lowe said there was damage throughout the building and it is unknown when it will be habitable again.
U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in an email that the university has offered temporary housing for all residents affected by the fire.
There was still confusion Saturday afternoon about a dog that may or may not have been in the building at the time. Some of the residents asked crews to look for a dog, Cook said. Firefighters found an empty dog cage, but no dog and it is unknown if the dog was actually in the building at the time, Cook added.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. There were three Ann Arbor fire inspectors at the house trying to determine what sparked the blaze. Lowe said the inspectors got there at 9 a.m. and were expected to be there until 4 or 5 p.m.
"They're looking at a couple different things," Cook said.
The bricks on the front of the large, old building perched atop a hill at the corner of Washtenaw and South University Avenue was charred with smoke damage. The front windows were broken out and debris was scattered amid empty beer cans on the capacious front porch. A clean-up effort had already begun Saturday afternoon with garbage cans filled with the debris and a construction company going through the building alongside the fire inspectors.
Significant damage to the front room was noticeable through the broken windows. Lowe said when crews arrived, there was heavy black smoke inside that room that didn't reach the rest of the building where the sleeping quarters are located, because of "fire doors" designed to prevent the spread of fire. Some smoke did make it through the doors and there was damage throughout the building, officials said.
The blaze was officially under control by around 6 a.m., Lowe said. Crews cleared the scene around 8 a.m. Cook said the cold conditions hampered fire crews, with hydrants and hoses freezing up.
The only close building to Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which stands mostly isolated on the hill at South University, is the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority next door.
None of the students The Ann Arbor News spoke with Saturday afternoon heard or saw anything out of the ordinary before hearing fire crews arrived.
"I didn't hear anything" said Morgan Bartelstein, whose bedroom is a stone's throw from where the front room next door where the fire broke out.
Bartelstein said her cousin is a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilion.
"I'm trying to get ahold of him," she said around 1 p.m. Saturday.
Officials said 28 people occupied the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house. City records indicate the dwelling has a valid occupancy permit for 18 individual rooms and has a maximum occupancy of 18.
The fraternity has not been officially recognized by the university since 2011, when the Interfraternity Council expelled them over hazing allegations.
Most recently, Sigma Alpha Epsilon was in the news when two of its members were stabbed at a Halloween party after trying to kick out a group of people.
Davonte Northern, a 21-year-old Monroe man, was eventually arrested and charged in the stabbing. He is scheduled to appear in court for a pretrial hearing Tuesday before Judge Donald Shelton.
A message left with Brandon Weghorst, Associate Executive Director of Communications at Sigma Alpha Epsilon's national headquarters in Evanston, Ill., was not immediately returned.