By Meg Schmitt
While campus was quiet over the break, several fires broke out in town over the last weekend. The first fire occurred early on the morning of Jan. 18 at 1127 Broad Street, the home of Cheri Bowers.
“We got a call here at 7 a.m. that morning, and we called in two other towns, [the] Gilman and Malcom fire departments, to assist us,” said Grinnell firefighter Dave Thompson, who helped direct the efforts to save the house.
Bowers is the long-time owner of the Victorian-style home and lived there with her family, including late husband and Pioneer football player Edd Bowers ’74. She had been renting out the upper floor of the house to Laurie Moore, an employee of Grinnell College Dining Services.
While Bowers was already at work, Moore was upstairs preparing to leave when she smelled smoke and fled the house for help.
“[Moore] came running over here, and I called 911,” said Dorothy Spriggs, co-owner of the Carriage House Bed & Breakfast next door. “By that time, there was a lot of smoke.”
The winds and the size of the house worked against the firefighters who quickly arrived on the scene and struggled to control the flames.
“The guys did a really good job, for as big a house as it was,” Thompson said. “It was a large house, and fire just got up into the walls and we couldn’t get to it.”
The combined forces of firefighters continued to battle the flames for most of the day, doing their best to recover Bowers’ pets and belongings.
It is believed now that the fire was caused by a bizarre accident—the pointed end of a decorative curtain rod fell into a power strip, conducting the electrical current to the curtain itself, which caught on fire.
While every attempt was made to save the house, the roof eventually fell atop the third floor, making its recovery unlikely.
“[The firefighters] were there all day and at the end of the day, it’s like, ‘that’s it—what I have on,’” Bowers said.
“But we have to be thankful for what we have… everyone’s just been so awesome,” she continued. “I couldn’t ask for anything better… people just come out of the woodwork to help.”
Town members have been reaching out continuously since the fire—from local construction companies offering aid in recovering belongings from the debris to neighbors and friends opening their homes to Bowers.
While her home could not be saved, the Carriage House and Grinnell Historical Museum on either side were well protected.
“At times there was danger to other homes, and the fire department was watering down the south side of our house,” Spriggs said.
For that, at least, Bowers is thankful.
“I feel bad that not only did I lose a house, but the town did too. That’s the saddest part,” Bowers said.
Bowers also lost her dog and one of her four cats in the fire, along with a lifetime’s worth of belongings, among them some of her family’s collected African artifacts. Despite these losses, Bowers has done her best to remain positive.
“You can’t dwell on it,” she said. “You just keep going.”
Unfortunately for Grinnell, the destruction of the weekend wasn’t over, as a second house fire occurred just one day later, Saturday, January 19, at 528 Spring Street.
The Grinnell Fire Department determined the cause of this fire to be electrical, as well, but was able to control the blaze much more easily in the single-story home.
Thompson noted the relative luck Grinnell has been having in terms of fires and recommended the smoke detector program operated by the Fire Department.
“If you need smoke detectors in your house and don’t have any, you can call down and the firefighters will come out and install those free of charge,” Thompson said.
The Grinnell community continues to show their support for all involved, living up to the good name of the town.