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String of fires plagues Castle Point complex

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Three recent fires at Castle Point Apartments have left authorities searching for answers, after four Notre Dame seniors were left with an unlivable apartment and other areas of the complex were badly damaged by smoke.While two of the fires were minor – flaring in trashcans in separate community laundry rooms the nights of Oct. 11 and12 – the third fire, which occurred the afternoon of Oct. 14, did significant damage to several apartments, according to Clay Township Fire Chief Tim Schabbel.The first two fires have been classified as suspicious, and the third is under open investigation, Schabbel said. “We haven’t eliminated any possibilities,” he said, adding the possibilities include arson, other suspicious activity or an accident.Authorities including Clay Fire Marshal Dave Cherrone, the office of the Indiana state fire marshal and the office of the St. Joseph County sheriff are piecing together the details of the fires through interviews and lab investigation, Schabbel said.It could not be determined whether the same party was responsible for all three fires, he said.Although the first two fires extinguished themselves, the Clay Fire Department responded to all three incidents and followed protocol of evacuating residents from their apartments each time, Schabbel said. He was unsure whether the complex was filled to capacity at the time of the fires.Omar Zidan, manager of Castle Point, said complex management immediately took precautionary measures following the third fire. Castle Point ownership switched hands in September when brothers Raed and Hani Zidan purchased the complex. Owners were unavailable for comment.”We put three smoke detectors in each hallway,” Omar Zidan said. “We put smoke detectors in all the laundry rooms and secured them with locks. Only residents can enter.”He added that four security guards now patrol the property instead of one.According to Omar Zidan, residents have not expressed unease or anxiety about living in Castle Point.”Because of the new ownership, the residents feel better. The old [owner] didn’t put in smoke detectors,” he said. “The residents were really happy and thanked us for moving everyone into corporate units, helping them until 3 o’clock in the morning and not just sending them to find a room in a hotel.”Seniors Lauren Kinsman, Carrie Lett, Molly Welch and Steph Giannetto were hit especially hard by the third fire, which occurred at about 3:30 pm on Oct. 14.”Our apartment suffered significant smoke damage. Structural damage included a handful of walls and part of the ceiling,” said Welch. “Some rooms are obviously worse than others with black walls, nails burnt thru the walls, blistered paint, and holes made in the efforts to stop the fire before it spread through the attic and into other units in the building.”Castle Point authorities stepped in to help the students, Welch said, allowing them to move to another unit within the complex and assisting with expenses.”Castle Point is being very helpful. They paid to clean our clothes, mattresses and couches and have helped us move our stuff to the new apartment,” she said. “Under the terms of the lease that we signed, Castle Point did not have a responsibility to do any of the above.”Castle Point has made an effort to deal with the damage caused by the fires, Omar Zidan said. An outside contractor – a disaster restoration specialist firm called First Response Inc. – was contacted to provide fire restoration.Welch said following the third fire, owners circulated flyers to every unit offering a $15,000 reward for information about a possible cause.

kantonac@nd.edu, cheining@nd.edu