Fire and theft at Woodgate apartments left WSU student homeless

It was just after midnight when the fire started. Wichita State senior Muhammad Tahir was asleep. His roommate was on his way home.

“I wasn’t very concerned when the fire was burning; it was like an adventure, until the next day when I realized I was homeless,” Tahir said. Just after midnight on May 30th, a fire broke out in Woodgate apartments on mile east of WSU on 21st St.

Tahir lived there with his roommate, Asad Jahangir, a WSU graduate student.

“When the fire started, some of my neighbors were knocking on my door, but I was so fast asleep that I didn’t wake up until my roommate called,” Tahir said. “He called…and told me to go out and look what building it is,” he said. “I went outside my apartment, and there was a fireman standing there. He told me to get out immediately. So I went outside and I saw that the whole roof was on fire.”

Tahir wasn’t greatly troubled while the fire was burning.

“I didn’t feel very sad, but I was concerned if the fire had spread down to my apartment,” Tahir said. “I realized I left my documents and my roommate’s documents, so I ignored the firemen and went back inside to get them, and then I came back outside.”

According to fire department officials, the fire started when a third-floor resident put out a cigarette butt in a pot filled with potting soil on a balcony. The potting soil began to burn after the resident went inside. The fire spread from the third floor balcony to the roof above. Firemen were unable to stop the fire until the roof of the building collapsed. By then, the top floor had burned, and the lower floors had been damaged.

Tahir lived on the second floor.

“Our apartment didn’t burn, but it was ruined with smoke and water. Initially when we went back, I picked up some of my clothes because I had a class the next day, and I picked up some of my electronics,” Tahir said.

Most of Tahir’s possessions were ruined, including many electronics and his furniture.

The morning after the fire, Tahir went to class for an exam, just as if it was a normal day.

“A couple of my neighbors were telling me that I should skip the exam, but I had studied hard for the exam, so I saw no reason to skip it,” Tahir said.

The following days, while the displaced residents were away, thieves worked their ways through the damaged apartments.

“Whatever was left from the fire was stolen. First there was the fire, then people stole our stuff,” Tahir said.

When the firemen were working to put out the fire, they broke in every door. The apartment management had fit basic locks onto the doors and told the residents someone would be monitoring the apartments, but thieves still managed to steal from the fire victims.

“Other than that,” said Tahir, “the management did pretty well, and they were helpful.”

According to fire investigators, the fire had caused $300,000 in damage to the apartment structure. The management gave the displaced residents two options for getting a different apartment. Either they could move into an apartment downtown, or they could wait for an apartment in a different building at Woodgate. The second option could take up to a week.

“Initially we thought we would wait for a different apartment because we didn’t want to go downtown because it was far. The first two or three days we were almost completely homeless,” Tahir said. “Then we decided to move downtown because we didn’t have anywhere to go.”

Tahir and Jahangir’s problems weren’t all solved then. Since they lost so much to the fire and thieves, they have had financial trouble.

“The good thing is that the Red Cross is helping us with some of the furniture that we lost, but they can’t help us with the electronics. Beside that, we moved to a new place so we have to buy a lot of things. This month has been pretty hard financially,” he said.

In addition to that of the Red Cross, Tahir was appreciative of help he received from co-workers and his American family, particularly his American mom, Lona Kelly. Tahir and Jahangir live very differently now. Not only have they lost their old possessions, but they act differently at home because they know that the smallest accidents can lead to major problems.

“Even the guy who started the fire—it was a complete mistake. He didn’t realize the soil was combustible,” Tahir said.“I’m much more cautious with everything in the house,” he said. “Yesterday there was water leaking from the roof. If it were a normal day, I would have ignored it. But we’re being more careful now, especially of anything that could start a fire,” said Tahir. “There’s still a fear that something might go wrong, and we’ll have to start all over again.”