Ron Wilkins Journal & Courier
---- — WEST LAFAYETTE — Fire rousted Purdue University students from their sleep and out of the three-story apartment complex in the 200 block of South River Road around 5 a.m. Thursday. All but one of them made it out.
West Lafayette Fire Chief Tim Heath confirmed there was one fatality in the fire. Tippecanoe County Coroner Donna Avolt also confirmed the fatality and said the victim will be positively identified Saturday during an autopsy.
The body was found in an apartment in the south end of the complex and was removed around 11:10 a.m. by a Tippecanoe County deputy coroner. Officials have not released the name of the fire victim. It is not known if the victim is a Purdue student.
Other residents from the south end of the complex had minor injuries.
“I do know that we’ve had several who have been taken to the hospital without life-threatening injuries — smoke inhalation,” West Lafayette police Lt. Troy Harris said.
Purdue students captured photos of the West Lafayette blaze.
The majority of those who lived in the complex, which is owned and managed by Cochran Apartments, stumbled from their homes, shocked by the intensity of the inferno.
Pounding on his door jolted Michael Unata, a Purdue student from Whiting, from his sleep.
“We thought it was a neighbor just messing with us.” he said later Thursday morning when he and a friend returned to the complex to watch fire investigators sift through the mess.
“At first I thought it was a minor thing, and then we got out and the whole end of the building was just engulfed in flames,” Unata said. “It was so surreal. I’ve never seen anything like that ... that close to where we live.”
Mike Cluskey, a Purdue student from near Ann Arbor, Mich., lived closer to the fire-damaged end of the complex. He too was awaken by pounding on the door. He packed a knapsack, grabbed his laptop and headed out the back of the complex.
“I was expecting — maybe it was a drill, maybe it was a small fire,” Cluskey said. “(I) walked out on my balcony, looked right and there was just massive flames. Wow!”
Heath confirmed the intensity of the fire, which was reported around 5 a.m.
“Upon arrival, fire crews found fire protruding from the roof,” Heath said. “At 6:15 a.m. we had the fire under control.”
For those who were displaced, Purdue offered help.
“The focus now is on their immediate needs: housing, something to eat, and a place to shower,” Purdue spokeswoman Liz Evans said, noting that final exams start on May 5. “The students have been staying at the France A. Cordova Recreation Center.”
The fire and its cause remain under investigation.