It was 5:30 in the morning on May 27 when vice president of Student Services and Director of Athletics, Deb Duren, received the call from Stephens Security Director Tony Coleman that the Brookside apartment complex on College was engulfed in flames.
After being assured that the students staying on campus over the summer were safe and had been evacuated to Stamper Commons, Duren got in her car and headed to campus.
“When I reached the Elk’s Lodge, about four miles from town, you could see the flames shooting in the air. I parked by the new Willis Medical House and as soon as I opened my door, the heat hit me right in the face. You could barely make it to Lela Raney Wood Hall before it got to be too much,” Duren described.
The Brookside apartment complex is parallel to the Roblee and Pillsbury. Fortunately, the brick façade already installed on the far right of the complex kept Pillsbury unharmed. Roblee was not so lucky.
“The blinds and air conditioners melted and glass broke. We watched the dryer vents melt down the side of the building, it was that hot,” Duren said.
Duren has been a member of the Stephens College community for over 25 years. She had witnessed both the Gordon Manor fire and the Playhouse Theatre Company fire, but neither compared to this.
“It was so intense and so hot,” Duren said. A press release from the city of Columbia stated that over 2 million gallons of water was used to control and extinguish the blaze.
Hillcrest is currently home to the displaced tenants. According to the Brookside Facebook page, the owners of the complex on College, Nathan and John Odle, pledge a quick recovery and return by mid-October. The cause of the fire remains undetermined.
Furthermore, the leveling of the ground next to the visitor’s center has raised concerns from the city and the Stephens community.
“We have not received any plans at this time.” Phil Teeple, Building Regulations Supervisor for the city, said.
The Odles currently have a demolition permit and temporary parking lot permit.