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DeKALB – Fire Chief Bruce Harrison said the damage caused by a fire inside a Northern Illinois University fraternity house may not have been significant, but the potential danger inherent in the fire is substantial.
"We have no tolerance for this, and we take it as a very serious risk," Harrison said. "You have to take a fire in a building like that as a serious issue."
The incident was discovered about 8 a.m. Sunday at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house, 1020 Hillcrest Drive in DeKalb. Police say a woman walked into a vacant room that morning and called police after discovering evidence there had been a fire inside the room.
Police and fire officials responded, and both departments are continuing to investigate the incident as a possible arson.
During the investigation, fire officials noted a number of code violations and subsequently condemned the building.
The building has been occupied by the Eta Nu chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha – nicknamed Pike – since they moved from a different location in 2007. According to county tax records, the building is owned by PIKE Alum LLC, based in Chicago. That organization purchased the building on Nov. 15, 2006.
Harrison said his department is working with several similar buildings in that same area on code issues, but only the Pike house has been marked uninhabitable. He said the property owners were given 30 days to make corrections, and another inspection will be done next month.
He did not say all the corrections that need to be made, but said they include disposal of accumulated garbage and maintenance and repair of smoke detectors.
Jay Carmichael, director of services-west for the Pi Kappa Alpha national organization, said its leaders learned of the situation Tuesday and were working to try and contact local fraternity officials and the landlord. He said the organization has a housing department working to figure out what the landlord needs to do to get the house livable.
"We're trying to contact them and figure out how we can be of assistance," Carmichael said.
Harrison said fire officials inspected the building before students moved in last August and found no deficiencies.
DeKalb Police Lt. Gary Spangler said everyone in the building was interviewed after police were contacted, but no solid leads have developed. He said one man who was interviewed told police he woke up and heard a smoke alarm sounding, but no one else reported hearing the alarm. Spangler said it appeared at one point the alarm had been activated, but was later reset.
At this point, Spangler said, the case is still pending.
"We're thankful it didn't cause more problems," he said.
Harrison said he believes the primary issue is not the damage the fire did not cause, but the potential damage it might have caused.
"There are no small fires in a building like that," Harrison said. "These kind of things put people at risk, and we take that seriously. If this was an intentionally-set fire, in a building like that it's reckless endangerment."
Emails sent to officers of the local fraternity chapter were not immediately returned Tuesday. A message left with the assistant director of Greek Affairs for NIU was not returned Tuesday.