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The Blue & Gray Press | February 25, 2018

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Students Unscathed but Displaced by Mason Hall Fire

Students Unscathed but Displaced by Mason Hall Fire

By CHRISTINA NICHOLAS

At around 7:40 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9, I was sitting at my desk in Mason 510 painting my nails and looking forward to a calm, productive night to catch up on schoolwork, when the dreaded blare of the fire alarm sounded. Annoyed, I grabbed my flip-flops and my roommate and headed down the hall. Ironically, as we passed room 506, we cursed the moron who had probably just burned popcorn and set off the fire alarm.

Once we were outside, it was apparent that this wasn’t a typical false alarm. No one knew what was going on, and there was a rumor that there was an actual fire on the fifth floor. I asked another resident what was happening and she said there was, in fact, a fire and pointed in the direction of my room.

Needless to say, I panicked. The fire trucks started to arrive, and I could see smoke coming out of the window that was only two down from my own. It was surreal to think that an actual fire was burning our dorm.

Once the firefighters were inside, the window of 506 was opened all of the way with no screen, so I could see what was going on inside. The sprinkler in 506, and only 506, had gone off, and it appeared that the firefighters were also using a fire hose. Water spouted from inside of the dorm, running out the window and down the front of the building, so one could only imagine how much water was actually inside the room. It was about 20 minutes before the firefighters started exiting Mason with all of their equipment, and that’s when reality sank in.

My phone was about to die, I was wearing flip-flops, and I, along with many other Mason residents, was not prepared to spend the rest of the night with the little that we had grabbed, assuming that this was just the usual false alarm.

Thankfully, the alarm had been reliable and the system worked just as it was intended to. Let this be an example of how crucial it is that alarm and sprinkler systems operate properly. I had literally walked by a room with a fire behind the door and had no idea.

The next couple of hours, from about 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., consisted of my fellow residents and me, and some students from Randolph, sitting in Dodd Auditorium waiting to hear our fate. The communication between the firefighters and school administrators with students was superb. The students were kept up-to-date on any changes and firefighters answered questions from students as they walked by.

President Rick Hurley made an appearance and talked to us about what would most likely happen. Room 506, the rooms a couple of doors down on both sides and the rooms below them would most likely have water damage from the fire suppression system, and we were unable to return to our rooms for the rest of the night.

Dean Cedric Rucker and the RAs made trips back into Mason for those who needed medication from their rooms, but that was strictly all that they were allowed to retrieve for us. We could either find a place to stay the night on our own, or Residence Life would find us a random dorm that we could share with a stranger for the night. The thought of showing up at a stranger’s door, with absolutely no belongings except for my dead cell phone and the clothes I was wearing, was unsettling to say the least. Luckily, I had some amazing friends who welcomed me with open arms. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for those who didn’t have a place to stay with such last-minute notice. I was disappointed in the University’s lack of provided shelter for all of the displaced students.

The next morning at 9 a.m., students met again in Dodd Auditorium. That was when CJ Porter, director of resident life, Rucker and other school officials explained that the main concern was toxic mold that would result from all of the water dripping through the drywall and floors. We had until 11 a.m. to get whatever we needed from our rooms for Saturday and Sunday. Again, the shelter situation was the same. We were told that we would essentially be homeless for the next two days, and the most they could do for us was find a stranger to dump us on.

Around 10 p.m. on Saturday, the UMW website said that Mason residents, except for the rooms that were more severely damaged, would be able to return to their dorms at 9 a.m. on Sunday. Thankfully, only some things in my room got wet and there was little damage. I wish I could say the same for other rooms. Room 506 was completely ruined. When I looked inside, there was smoke damage along the walls and parts of the ceiling were burned, along with the belongings of those who called the room home.

The fire allegedly started with a Keurig coffee machine, but no one was in the room. Keurigs have an automatic shut-off, which is why they are allowed in residence halls.

This leads me to believe that it was some kind of electrical problem that started the fire.

I, like many, am grateful that no one was injured in the fire. We need to remember that, even though this weekend may have been inconvenient, it could have been much worse. Please try to be supportive of those who have been affected in the long-term by the Mason fire. For most of us, it was just an uncomfortable weekend, but for others their lives have been turned upside-down.