"My roommate woke us up because she saw all the lights from the fire trucks and she told us to come downstairs, that it was really, really bad, like nothing she'd ever seen before," said Lea Gipsonoh, a student at St. Michael's College.
Gipsonoh awoke early Monday morning to see the St. Michael's townhouse across the street on fire.
"We watched it for a few hours until the flames were gone and it was just unbelievable," Gipsonoh said.
The state police fire investigator says the blaze was accidental, caused by an electric heater on the first floor of the student housing. And flammable materials stacked on top fueled the fire. According to fire officials, the photoelectric smoke detectors are the reason these students survived.
"Photoelectric smoke alarms are mandated by the state based on state experience and state fire reports. Photoelectric smoke alarms are much better at detecting slow smoldering fires, and in doing research in the types of fire we have in the state of Vermont, those are what we recommended in houses currently," South Burlington Deputy Fire Chief Terry Francis explained.
Fire officials will be inspecting the electric heaters in the other student town houses. They will also seize the opportunity to inform students of safety precautions when using the heaters.
"I'm a bit concerned because I live in a townhouse with a similar heater. It definitely brings awareness to the issue. I'm a lot more careful what I put around it now," said Michael Thompson, a student at St. Michael's College.
Fire Marshal Terry Francis says there's no such thing as being too prepared for a fire.
"Any fire professional will tell you having a combination of smoke alarms, the photoelectric smoke alarm and the ionization smoke alarm, gives you the best protection for your house," Francis said.
No word yet on what the damage costs are from the fire, but as Gipsonoh says, all of that is second priority.
"It's all replaceable; human life isn't. So we're just thankful for that," she said.
According to St. Michael's Public Safety, the affected students salvaged what possessions they could, and they will use their homeowners insurance to make claims for any lost property. The students are being assisted by St. Michael's and the American Red Cross with immediate needs.
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