The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Vehicle, dumpster up in flames at off-campus housing

Courtesy / YikYak

Two fires occurred on off-campus housing complexes near Grand Valley State University on Sunday, Feb. 25.

Ottawa County’s police department responded to a dumpster fire near Campus West Apartments around 2:30 pm. Later that day, around 6 p.m., there was a vehicle fire in one of the Canvas Townhomes parking lots. Both fires were safely extinguished and no one was injured, but there was severe damage to a Canvas Townhomes resident’s vehicle.

Campus West and Canvas Townhomes are only 0.5 miles apart, roughly a seven-minute walk on foot. Located across the street from GVSU, both off-campus housing complexes have a high density of student residents. Grand Valley State University Police Department (GVPD) are often first responders to emergency calls involving students near campus. 

Assistant Director of Public Safety and GVPD Captain Leah Heaton said there are many reasons these instances can occur.

“Vehicle fires typically start in the engine compartment. They can occur from a variety of sources such as frayed or exposed wiring, overheating engines or even animals nesting in the engine compartment,” Heaton said. “Dumpster fires can start from combustible items within the dumpster, such as batteries or chemicals coming in contact with paper, wood or plastic. We also see dumpster fires started in a malicious manner.” 

Since the Canvas Townhomes vehicle caught fire in one of the complex’s parking lots, the fire caught the attention of residents. Similarly, attention was drawn to the dumpster at Campus West. Many people took pictures and videos of the blaze, posting them to social media like Yik Yak, a social media app that allows users to post anonymously to users in a close radius, which is popular among college students. Several posts pictured accounts of both fires showed and the large plume of black smoke coming from the burning vehicle.

GVSU student and Canvas Townhomes resident Emelia Tombrella was driving home with her roommate when they both noticed the plume of black smoke coming from the townhouses. As she drove further, she came across several students on the sidewalk watching the burning vehicle. According to Tombrella, sirens began to ring and a fire truck arrived at the scene. She safely watched the firefighters surround the burning vehicle from her porch. Tombrella said the vehicle was gone by the next morning. 

“It seems like when something happens around here, it always takes place at Canvas,” Tombrella said.

Heaton said vehicle fires and dumpster fires can be particularly dangerous to deal with. 

“If someone sees a fire, the first thing to do is call 911. Usually, a fire extinguisher alone is not enough to put out these kinds of fires,” Heaton said. “Stay away from (a) burning item in case there are things inside that could explode.”

Heaton said students can follow different safety protocols to prevent future fires from occurring. For vehicles, she said it is important to perform regular maintenance checks for engine problems and to ensure no animals are nesting inside the engine compartment. Heaton said dumpster fires can be avoided by ensuring items are disposed of correctly, allowing hot materials to cool and keeping combustible materials out of the trash.

Both Canvas Townhomes and Campus West have declined to comment on the fires. 

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