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Posted on Tue, Dec 4, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

Small fire and water from sprinkler systems cause damage to downtown Ann Arbor clothing store

By Cole Bertsos

After a small garbage can fire set off the sprinkler system, Renaissance clothing store owner Roger Pothus said it "sounded like a rainstorm outside of his office."

The result was more dramatic: The entire McKinley Towne Centre in downtown Ann Arbor had to be evacuated Tuesday night, and now Pothus is cleaning up the store and assessing damage.

Pothus said the Ann Arbor Fire Department responded before he even had a chance to call them.

Fire officials arrived at the store at 201 S. Division St. at about 5 p.m., finding the small fire in the store's storage area.

Multiple sprinklers heads had activated due to the fire, which contained the blaze, fire officials said. Firefighters extinguished the fire, then worked to remove smoke and water from the store.

While the entire building was evacuated, neighboring first-floor businesses TCF Bank and Bar Louie did not sustain damage, according to fire officials. Light smoke was reported on upper levels, but Google employees returned to work a short time after firefighters arrived.

No one was injured, but one man was checked by HVA for smoke inhalation.

Firefighters described damage to the store room as "major." They did not immediately identify a cause of the blaze.

Pothus said the rest of the store had more damage done by the sprinkler system than the actual fire. He said he's still figuring out the best way to remedy the water damage to the clothing.

"Some people said 'get the clothes dry cleaned,' but then they're just not the same," he said Tuesday evening.

The immediate goal, according to Pothus, was to get all of the water out of the building, which is owned by McKinley Inc. He said a friend as well as building maintenance people were on-hand to help mop up the water.

Pothus, who opened the store in 1971, said there was no damage to his computer or his inventory files.

"I managed to pull the power cord on my computer," he said.

The cost of damages to the store are yet to be determined, and Pothus said he's also not sure when the store will be back open, but that hopefully it would be soon.


Brian Johnstone

Mon, Dec 17, 2012 : 4:49 p.m.

Since the manager was in his office and did not notice the fire, and the Fire Dept was there BEFORE he even called is a testament to the job sprinklers do. They control or extinguisher fires, notify the Fire Dept. and save lives. So for a few items of cothing wet by water is a lot less damage than say him being trapped inside his office as he fire raged if there weren't any sprinklers. And by the way, Sprinklers do not ALL go off. They are temperature sensitive and only activate when the air temperature is at a certain °, for instance this migh have been 155°. This is not HOLLYWOOD and special effects


Sat, Dec 8, 2012 : 6:38 p.m.


Jeff Norton

Wed, Dec 5, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

Well said! Cole Bertsos and totally missed the real story here. This store and likely those around it would have been badly damaged without the sprinkler system. The sprinklers PREVENTED the damage. And, yes, possibly save lives as well.


Wed, Dec 5, 2012 : 12:57 p.m.

Where am I going to get my next $300 shirt now?

Urban Sombrero

Wed, Dec 5, 2012 : 12:51 p.m.

Are fire suppression systems like that usually "all or nothing"? I mean, the fire was in the back. If nothing was happening in the front, why did they go off there? Can't they be on separate sensors. Just curious. It seems that, in a retail store like this, something like that would make more sense and lead to less damaged inventory. At least on the sales floor. (Note to self: ask my ex-husband. He works for Spear's.)

Urban Sombrero

Wed, Dec 5, 2012 : 1:24 p.m.

Ah, gotcha. It looks to me like the whole sales floor/inventory there was soaked. But, I'm kinda blind, so...


Wed, Dec 5, 2012 : 1:02 p.m.

They aren't "all or nothing." Each individual sprinkler activates separately when it gets hot enough. I would guess that all of the water you see in these photos came from the area where the fire was and just spread out across the floor into the front of the store. The clothes on the racks and shelves in these pictures don't look wet - just the floor. The owner was probably talking about clothing that got wet in the storage area - not the area in these pictures.


Wed, Dec 5, 2012 : 12:10 a.m.

Of course if the fire had not been contained by the sprinklers ALL of the clothing could have been destroyed by the fire and people could have been injured or killed. Take the water damage every time.


Wed, Dec 5, 2012 : 12:01 p.m.

...unless it's inventory that isn't moving, in which case a small fire is quite convenient The discrepancy between someone's (the owner's?) account of a "small garbage can fire" and the firefighters' account of "major" room damage from a blaze of unidentified cause could raise the brow of an insurer.