UPDATE: 91 people displaced by Founders Hill fire in Manhattan, cause unknown

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The roof of Building G burns at Founders Hill apartments. The apartment complex caught fire midafternoon on Oct. 17, 2016. (Austin Fuller | The Collegian)

UPDATE at 11:33 a.m. The Office of Student Life at Kansas State will have an informational meeting at 1 p.m. today in the Little Theater in the Student Union for anyone affected by the fire and needing resources. People wanting to help may call the American Red Cross at 844-334-7569.

UPDATE at 12:26 a.m. The building is a total loss at an estimated $2 million of damage to the structure, according to a press release from the Manhattan Fire Department received at 12:05 a.m. The press release was received after the Collegian went to press.

Six pets were rescued, which is more than the four that were previously reported. Two pets were still unaccounted for as of the press release.

The cause of the fire is still unknown. Firefighters will stay on the scene overnight to extinguish hot spots, but the investigation will not start until later in the morning.

The Riley County, Blue Township and Fort Riley fire departments all assisted the Manhattan Fire Department, as did the Riley County Police Department, Riley County Emergency Medical Services, RileyCounty Emergency Management, Kansas State University Police Department, Kansas Highway Patrol, City of Manhattan and American Red Cross.

UPDATE at 10:30 p.m. The fire is out. Ryan Almes, deputy chief for the Manhattan Fire Department, said investigators are planning work through the night to determine the cause. There were 91 people displaced.

“This is a large fire in terms of damage loss, and it’s definitely a large fire in terms of people impacted,” Almes said. “To displace 91 people in one fire is very significant.”

A fire broke out Monday afternoon at the Founders Hill apartment complex at 1401 College Avenue in Manhattan. Building G was the only building affected.

Founders Hill is owned by First Management Inc. of Lawrence.

“Residents can contact First Management, and First Management has hotel rooms available for tenants,” Almes said. “Also, K-State Housing has some accommodations available.”

Kansas State released a statement at 4:36 p.m., soon after the fire broke out, urging affected students to contact the university for help.

“Any Kansas State University students affected by the Oct. 17 fire at Manhattan’s Founders Hill apartment complex, which is off campus, should call the Office of Student Life at 785-532-6432 for assistance.”

Mat Droge, public information officer for the Riley County Police Department, said the building was safely evacuated and four pets were rescued.

“Currently, the fire is not under control,” Droge said around 4:40 p.m. “(Manhattan Fire Department) is in a defensive operation, which means they’re putting water on the outside of the building because it’s too dangerous and too large for them to go into the building.”

Droge said the fire was a “third alarm,” which means they requested more resources.

Almes said when the fire department arrived on the scene, the fire was on the exterior of the building and had spread to the attic. The firefighters were unable to contain the fire because of the weather conditions, Almes said.

According to the National Weather Service, the wind speed at 5:50 p.m. was 28 miles per hour.

Both the source of the fire and the amount of damage to the building is still unknown, Almes said.

Almes said an official press release would likely come out Tuesday morning.

During the fire, Droge asked the public to avoid the area, both for safety and to stay out of the way of emergency personnel.

“It’s dangerous and unhealthy to breathe the smoke — and there’s a lot of it,” Droge said.

Traffic was blocked off on Claflin Road from College Avenue to Hylton Heights. Droge said part of the reason was to run a fire hose across the street.

At the time, Droge said people should stay clear of the area.

“Obviously, you don’t see this every day, so you’re going to want to see how Manhattan Fire Department operates,” Droge said. “We just ask that you do that from a safe distance away from the smoke and not impeding what (the emergency personnel) are trying to do.”

Student homes, homework burn

Haley Heydman, junior in dental hygiene, lives in one of the nearby buildings.

“We heard the sirens, but we didn’t think it was here until they had stopped here, then we came out,” Heydman said.

She said she saw the fire start at one end of the building and move its way along the roof.

“There’s a big, huge hole in the roof,” Heydman said.

Corey Roth, junior in management and a resident of one of the nearby buildings, tweeted a video of the fire to the Collegian.

A Collegian Twitter poll found that 8 percent of respondents have been affected by the fire.

Dakota Troyer, sophomore in agricultural education, and John Hamilton, sophomore in geography, are roommates on the first floor of Building G.

Hamilton said he found out about the fire through a phone call from his brother.

“He asked me if I was OK, and I was confused,” Hamilton said. “I asked why, and he said, ‘Well, your building is on fire.'”

Hamilton then received a phone call from the apartment complex.

“(They asked), ‘Are you OK?'” Hamilton said. “‘Your building’s on fire. Do you have any pets?’ That’s all.”

Troyer, who had just gotten out of his agricultural economics class, said it was the “epitome of a Monday.”

“I don’t run; I ran all the way here,” Troyer said. “I don’t run, I don’t. I don’t want to; I don’t like to. But this place had all my stuff. I am already poor — I don’t need my existing things destroyed by a fire.”

Inside his room was his book bag, which held all of his textbooks and school supplies. The agricultural economics test in his hand, on which he received a “B,” was the only school work not in his apartment.

His 60-inch, flat-screen TV was in his apartment.

“It isn’t replaceable with my income because that took me two years to save up for,” Troyer said.

The key to his locked-up bicycle, all of his clothes and various nostalgic items, including his high school yearbook, were also in his apartment.

“For some reason, my coping mechanism, the first thing I thought of was, ‘This would be a good video for my commercial,'” Troyer said.

Troyer said one of his current class projects involves making a commercial. In the commercial, his roommate was asked, “Do you want to go put the flames out in your apartment?”

The response in the commercial is, “I would prefer not to,” which is a reference to the short story “Bartleby” by Herman Melville. Troyer said the videos for the project are safe on his phone.

“A sense of humor is the only thing you can have to help you in this type of situation,” Troyer said. “Optimism and a sense of humor.”

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Jason Tidd
Jason Tidd graduated from Kansas State University's Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication in May 2017. He was the spring 2017 editor-in-chief, fall 2016 news editor and spring 2016 assistant news editor. While at K-State, Jason played baritone in the Pride of Wildcat Land marching band.