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The Blue & Gray Press | August 22, 2019

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Fire in Mason Hall Displaces Residents

Fire in Mason Hall Displaces Residents

The Keurig Coffee Maker that is suspected of starting the Mason Hall Fire. The machine is melted to a small dorm fridge. Courtesy of Alyssa Smallridge


Most Mason Hall residents are back in their rooms after a fire forced the students living there to evacuate around 8 p.m. on Nov. 9.

The students were also briefly allowed back inside the building to remove their belongings between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Saturday.

“Restoration and cleanup crews worked through the night to resolve damage created by the fire in Mason Hall,” said Marty Morrison in a campus-wide email. “The fire was contained to one room. No one was injured. Damages were sustained mostly by activation of the sprinkler system.”

Morrison is the director of news and public information.

Officials suspect the fire began on the fifth floor in room 506 when a Keurig coffee maker caught fire, according to University of Mary Washington President Rick Hurley.

The students living in that room were away at the time of the incident.

It is unknown at this time whether the fire started because of the coffee maker or because of other issues with the building.

“I was in my room when the alarm went off,” said sophomore psychology and education major Kelly Bryant. “When we went outside, we didn’t think much of it, but when three fire trucks showed up, we thought something might be wrong.

At one point, the Fredericksburg fire department broke windows on the fifth floor and sprayed water into the building to contain the flames, according to several UMW students.

Both Hurley and Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker said the water from the sprinklers and fire trucks soaked through to the lower levels, causing water damage to the building’s infrastructure and student property.

“If you are on the fourth or third floor, most of your stuff is likely wet,” said Doug Searcy, vice president of student affairs.

The fire marshal is inspecting the building to determine the cause and amount of damage, said Hurley.

“We will go into every room in Mason and look at them tonight. We will take pictures and do a complete assessment,” said Searcy on the night of the incident.

The University is trying to relocate students into other rooms on campus.

“If you have an open space in your room, please make sure that it is clear and clean for these students to be placed in,” said Michelle Brooks, the housing and operations coordinator, in a campus-wide email.

Residence Life is processing the students and giving them new room assignments. The school said the displacement was temporary and they hope to have students back in Mason Hall permanently after 9 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 11.

Chris Porter, director of Residence Life, said students being allowed back inside the dorm depends on how fast the building dries out.

“It’s not the safest environment for you to stay overnight,” Porter said.

Colin Rafferty, assistant professor of English, invited students of his living in Mason Hall to stay at his place for the night.

“If you’re displaced by the fire in Mason Hall, [Direct Message] me and let me know what I can do to help,” Rafferty said on Twitter.

Several other students offered shelter to displaced Mason residents over Twitter and Facebook, including Student Government Association President Jeremy Thompson, a senior political science major.

“Anyone need a place to stay, let me know. I got you,” Thompson said on Twitter.

Searcy announced after the fire that the University would not cover the costs of property damages. Instead, students will have to use their family’s homeowners insurance to file claims for any damaged property.

The University brought the displaced students into George Washington Hall and updated them every half hour. Rucker purchased pizza and handed out medicine recovered from the building to students for whom it was required.

“Although we are dealing with some damage to the facility and the temporary displacement of Mason students, we are thankful all of our systems worked appropriately, students exited the building and everyone is safe,” said Searcy in a campus-wide email.

“If we had not had a sprinkler system, we would have likely lost a floor,” Searcy said to the students gathered in George Washington Hall.

“I think the school’s handling it really well. It’s been a fast response,” said Stephanie Preston, junior history major and SGA communications director.

The Bullet attempted to reach Natatia Bledsoe, the public information officer for the Fredericksburg Police, for comment on the incident, but she was unavailable at the time of publication.

The University completed the renovation of Mason Hall earlier this year. This is the first semester students have lived in the building since the renovations.


Thomas Bowman, Sarah Tagg, Alison Thoet and Mariah Young contributed to this report.


  1. beth

    So lucky only stuff was lost! Everybody is ok!

  2. This is terrible news, but glad everyone is safe. We have a separate, apartment-like basement at casa bava, let us know if we can put up a couple of students.

  3. Sally


  4. Frances Norton

    Not happy with the notification process or information flow about this emergency. Thankfully, there were no injuries, however, there will be considerable property loss, for which UMW says they are not liable. When families make claims against their homeowners policies, the claims may be paid, but then the policies are canceled. My student has lost a computer (with schoolwork on it), electronic car keys, warm clothing, bedding, etc. I’m sure the young ladies have lost more expensive things. Plus, there is no specific information about housing for thestudents. They seem to have been left to find for themselves.

  5. Cassandra

    It’s ridiculous that UMW will not reimburse students for damages related to a fire in a school dormitory. Yet another way that the administration throws their hands in the air and say, “Not us!”

  6. Jack Rudolph

    Yet another opportunity to bash the administration for something they didn’t even do. If Rick Hurley or Doug Searcy crept into the students’ room under the cover of night and started the fire, sure, go after them for your claims. Otherwise, I don’t see how UMW is responsible for students leaving a coffee maker on (plus, I’m sure the housing contract you signed explicitly conveys this). If your insurance company cancels you for making a claim for a computer and clothes, you should get another insurance company.

    Sounds like they’re working very hard to house the displaced students. Things like this don’t happen every day, so I don’t know why people expect immediate reconciliation of every single one of the hundreds of resulting problems overnight. It’s complicated and it takes time. Give them a break.

    I’m just glad everyone is OK. Things are replaceable.

  7. Sally

    Exactly. I could not have said it better myself.

  8. Sally

    plus the picture was doctored.

  9. Thomas Bowman

    The Bullet does not ever alter the content of photographs. We do lighten photos or adjust contrast as necessary for best print quality, but it never alters the content.
    -Thomas Bowman


    I am wondering why I was not notified through the parent notification system of this emergency. My daughter lives in Randolph.

    Also, from what I have been told, UMW is doing everything possible to assist the students.