“We’re gonna help these people:” Community rallies around victims of Coldwater Inn fire

Posted at 8:34 PM, Feb 16, 2015

COLDWATER, Mich. -- This southwest Michigan community is coming together to help families who were already facing tough times and are now searching for somewhere new to live. Some 28 families, including a dozen children, have been displaced and are now homeless after a fire destroyed the Coldwater Inn, where many of those families were living long-term.

“Here’s this young child in his pajamas with no shoes, no socks, no nothing, no coat," said Harold Jewell of Victim’s Services of Branch County. "Just wrapped up in a blanket and wondering what happened."

Firefighters believe the blaze was an electrical fire. They say the motel is a total loss.

There was panic and fear as flames broke out just before 4 a.m. on Monday as 60 people scrambled into the frigid cold, leaving everything they owned behind.

“These are the people who were living in this motel. That was a week-to-week pay thing,” Jewell said. “It was a motel that had been converted into efficiency apartments for people who were *this* close to being homeless, and all of a sudden it’s gone.”

The Coldwater Fire Department had been out to the inn the night before for the same thing they attribute Monday’s fire to. “We feel it’s electrical in nature," Coldwater Fire Chief Rich Sherman said. "Multiple electrical issues going on. It was not a rekindle from the first incident. We’re confident in that."

Crews fought the flames for hours, calling in mutual aid in dangerous sub-zero conditions.

“It takes a toll on the personnel," Chief Sherman said. "The equipment, obviously, the hose lines. It’s just very difficult."

A Coldwater firefighter suffered hypothermia but is expected to be OK, along with all the residents who were able to get out safely as Victim’s Services of Branch County stepped in.

“We set up a crew on scene so they can have coffee and doughnuts as they’re fighting the fire in sub-zero temperature,” Jewell said.

As word spread of the fire, the community stepped together.

“Three different hotels in town said that they would take them in, so suddenly that problem was solved,” Jewell said. “We started out with all sorts of victims and no resources and the word got out -- and this town, it just responds everywhere.”

Those now-homeless families all have a short-term place to stay with long-term housing plans in the works, plus help getting prescription medications, clothes, food, and gift cards. It’s help in the snap of finger from the community that prides itself in its generosity.

“Really big hearts in this town, that they are finding a way to make a difference,” Jewell said.

“We’re going to make a difference. We`re going to help these people.”