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Frat brothers displaced after Monday blaze at UW-W

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Carla McCann
November 13, 2007
— Jared Stange woke early Monday morning to the repetitive blast of a fire alarm in the two-story fraternity house on Main Street.

“I thought someone was cooking pizza again,” Stange said.


He was wrong.


But it wasn’t until the UW-Whitewater senior opened his second-floor living room door that he realized the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity house was on fire.


“I Army crawled to the stairs and then held my breath climbing down,” Stange said.


Outside, he could see flames shooting from the building, Stange said.


After spending considerable time Monday at the scene of the fire, the state fire marshal ruled the cause undetermined, said Scott Oldenburg, assistant Whitewater fire chief.


Loss to the building is estimated at more than $300,000.


All the residents and the fraternity’s dog were able to evacuate. Ten people lived in the house, five of whom are UW-Whitewater students, but only five residents were home at the time of the fire.


One student was treated at the scene for mild smoke inhalation, minor cuts and bruises, but no other injuries were reported.


The building is owned by TKE. Whether the fraternity will gut and rebuild the building or move to another location hasn’t been decided, said Scott Drolshagen, a representative of the TKE Alumni Board of Advisors in Milwaukee.


He drove to Whitewater to make sure the fraternity brothers are being taken care of, he said.


Residents shared their stories Monday afternoon while waiting outside the police tape to be allowed to view the damage inside.


Seconds after leaving the burning building, Stange became concerned that other residents still might have been inside.


“I broke windows and yelled just to make sure everyone was outside,” Stange said.


The fire started at about 3 a.m. in Matt Kobylinski’s first floor apartment on the northwest corner of the building.


“He was sleeping on the couch downstairs,” Stange said.


The fire burned through the top of the window and walked across the wall, Oldenburg said.


The story of the fire’s advance in the red brick building is told by scorch marks across it’s exterior, around windows and doors. The roof has a gaping hole, and what can be seen of the interior through empty window frames is charred.


Kobylinski, a UW-Whitewater junior, had spent the night at his parents’ home in Mukwonago.


When Kobylinski’s roommate called to tell him the house was burning, Kobylinski didn’t believe him.


It took some convincing for Kobylinski to realize it wasn’t a joke, he said.


“We pretty much lost everything,” Kobylinski said.


Jeff Peeters had been in bed only a short time when his roommate pounded on the door to tell him to get out, Peeters said.


By then, Peeters could smell the smoke.


“I knew it wasn’t food burning,” Peeters said.


His mother, Penny Peeters, drove to Whitewater from the family’s Iowa home to make sure her son was OK and had a place to stay, she said.


“Everyone here has been so helpful to the boys,“ Penny said.


Monday’s fire was the second at the frat house in 11 years. A fire Feb. 29, 1996, started about 4:30 a.m. and caused major damage to three upper apartments. The rest of the house had smoke and water damage. There were no reports of serious injuries to fraternity members in the 1996 fire, but the house’s dog, Axel, died in the blaze.


The Red Cross is putting up the TKE house residents in a local motel for three days. Members of the other Greek fraternities and sororities have stepped forward to provide school supplies and free meals.


“This is a very emotional time,” Drolshagen said. “We’re grateful that everyone is safe and came out of this without injuries.”



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