GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A massive apartment fire in Grand Rapids that displaced almost two dozen families last month has been ruled accidental.
The Grand Rapids Fire Department says the fire at the Ridgewood Apartment complex on Dec. 11 was started within a gas-forced heating unit, which then spread beyond the appliance.
The fire started just before 9 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 11 at the apartment complex on Woodburn SE in Grand Rapids.
GRFD says 52 fire personnel were on scene, including seven chief officers, along with 17 fire apparatuses.
Multiple families were displaced, and management worked with the American Red Cross to help find housing for them.
No citizens were hurt in the fire, but three members of the GRFD suffered injuries. A firefighter broke an ankle falling down a staircase and is still at home recovering. A lieutenant with the department suffered trauma when a large section of the ceiling fell on top of him. He was treated for his injury and released. A GRFD captain had to be treated for smoke inhalation.
The department says high winds contributed to the intensity of the fire.
A calm January day is a big change compared to this windy one back on Dec. 11.
"The lobby in between the apartments is a natural wind tunnel. So, on a windy day, you know, when you stepped outside," Rockwood Apartment former tenant Clarence VanCamp told FOX 17.
Vancamp lived on the second floor inside just off Woodburn SE.
"I stuck my head outside the sliding door in my bedroom and I looked up above to my left; that's when I saw the furnace of that unit was on fire," he said.
Grand Rapids and several other fire departments were called in to help stop those flames from spreading, which was a challenge with the weather.
"Due to the windy conditions that we had that day, it moved rather rapidly beyond that space beyond the mechanical closet, into void spaces, into the attic," Grand Rapids Fire Department Bill Smith said.
Smith says that the furnace fire led to a significant amount of damage. You can still see a massive hole a month later.
"The city of Grand Rapids does require rental properties to be certified for rental purposes. So there is a qualifying component for renting in the city of Grand Rapids and that includes an inspection process," Smith told FOX 17.
The apartments affected are boarded off and are still unlivable.
"Had it not been for some alert residents detecting a fire on their own and pounding on doors and alerting their friends and neighbors, I think we would have had a different outcome," Smith added.
VanCamp is currently with family. He says the renters' insurance on his apartment has made this transition smoother.
"It does a lot for peace and mind because I don't have to worry about the things that are salvageable out of my apartment. I know they are going to be cleaned up and taken care of and be ready when I move into my next place," VanCamp said.
On average, the annual cost for renters' insurance comes to just over $200, which is around $17 a month, according to NerdWallet.
"Your losses won't be covered just by virtue of renting a space from a landlord. You need to protect yourself with renters' insurance," Smith said.
FOX 17 is currently looking into if this apartment complex was up to the city's housing code.
There are many ways for you to see if the property you're renting meets city standards by calling the city’s assistance line at 311.
People can also send an email to inspections.grcity.us.
You can also call or go to the city’s code compliance website to see if a rental property is registered.