A swarm of firetrucks, groups of helpless onlookers, a large cloud of black smoke. When John Dayley left for the gym the evening of Sept. 7, he was unaware of the chaotic scene that would greet him on his way home.
Last month, the Creek Bend Apartments — located less than half a mile from Boise State University — caught fire and left members of the campus community displaced in the most overpriced city in the country. For many residents, the threat of homelessness and a catastrophic disruption to the school year loomed within the smoky aftermath.
Dayley, who graduated from Boise State University last spring with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting, recalled the grim scene that awaited him when he returned home that evening.
“As [my girlfriend and I] were driving down Park Center, we could see the smoke, and it looked like it was where our apartment was,” Dayley told The Arbiter through text message. “The first thing that was going through my head was my dog. We had left him in the apartment, and the fire was on our side of the building.”
Dayley said firefighters were able to break through the door of his apartment and retrieve his dog, who was unharmed. However, he and his girlfriend were unable to return to their unit that night.
Then, they looked to Boise State for help. Dayley’s girlfriend, who is a current student, contacted the university for assistance, where they ushered in a quick response to the needs of impacted students and faculty.
“On our side of the building, most people were not able to return to their apartments that night,” Dayley wrote. “Luckily for us, my girlfriend talked to Boise State, and they offered to find us arrangements for the night and the next few days, and we could not be more thankful for that.”
According to Lauren Oe, senior associate dean of students at Boise State, the aftermath of the Creek Bend Apartment fire was unprecedented. Although out-of-state students had been impacted by wildfires in the past, she couldn’t recall a situation where multiple members of the community were displaced within Boise.
“It requires a pretty speedy response, getting everybody together who may be able to be helpful in that process,” Oe said. “Our relationship with the Boise Police Department has been really helpful because they were able to identify students right away … That also gave us a general idea of how many units were really impacted by smoke damage.”
According to Oe, the first goal was to address short-term needs, such as finding temporary housing, coordinating with Dining Services on meal plans and providing clothing to students from the Bronco Shop.
The university also collected donations for a student emergency fund and coordinated with the American Red Cross, which has its own disaster relief fund, so that students could access available resources.
On top of material support, the Office of the Dean of Students also assigned case managers to stay in contact with students impacted by the fire to assess their ongoing needs.
“It really is about each student and what their needs are — having somebody, a human being, that they know they can reach out to that knows their situation and story,” Oe said. “That’s always our goal because they came here to get an education and a degree, so [we] want to help them through that process.”
Although individuals like Dayley were spared by the fire, not everyone made it through unscathed.
Business major and military veteran Jesse Knutsen, who was previously stationed in Thailand, Germany, Venezuela and the Middle East, returned home around 9 p.m. after taking a couple of tests on campus, where he saw fire trucks surrounding the apartment building.
“At first, I was kind of in denial. I [thought] maybe it was a false alarm, or someone got injured, so I actually went inside the building and then started walking down the hallway, and I smelled smoke,” Knutsen said. “Eventually, one of the firemen said, ‘Hey, you can’t be here.’ Then I knew it was real.”
Knutsen said he lost almost everything in the fire, aside from a few personal belongings he had with him at the time. However, support from Boise State and the surrounding community eased the recovery process.
“The community is amazing. They’ve made this a lot less stressful,” Knutsen said. “[Boise State] set me up with Veteran Services to help make connections with people who have made either monetary or furniture donations.”
Boise State also provided Knutsen a hotel room that weekend.
Knutsen commended the university’s response to the fire and expressed his appreciation for the community’s support during the weeks following the incident.
“[The community] has done so much. I don’t even have words to express my gratitude … [for] their outpouring of support and assistance,” Knutsen said. “It’s been incredible.”
Despite the unexpected nature of the apartment fire, Oe expressed her gratefulness in aiding students during their time of need.
“I’ve been at Boise State for 10 years, so I’ve [had] the opportunity to help the campus recover from a variety of challenges — when we have a student pass away, the awful thing that happened at the mall with the mall shooting,” Oe said. “Being able to support students through these really difficult challenges … it’s rewarding, and it feels purposeful.”