While some students were sleeping in late or buying textbooks during their last week of winter break, three USF students escaped a house fire that destroyed most of their possessions, only three days before classes started. The house fire occurred on the early morning of Friday, Jan. 23. The two-unit apartment, at Baker Street and Golden Gate Avenue, is still intact; however, the flames ruined most of the tenants’ possessions, turning them into ash.
At the time of the fire, only three of the 10 people living in the two-unit apartment were at home. The other roommates were either at their parent’s homes or on vacation. These three were able to escape, but one person suffered second-degree burns to his hands when he tried to save his computer. The cause of the fire is unknown, but according to a report on ABC 7, KGO-TV, firefighters said that the cause of the fire does not look suspicious. Mark Wong, a senior international business major and resident of the burnt apartment, said that he suspects the cause was electrical.
None of the residents were in the room when the fire started, but were alerted when the fire alarm sounded. The fire then spread to the upstairs unit, possibly by way of a wooden deck with stairs. In an odd coincidence, Wong said that a football had survived the flames and that popcorn had popped and remained on the floor. Unfortunately, Wong’s belongings were not so lucky. His clothing was destroyed and melted together, he said, and the carpets were burnt and wet from the firefighters’ hoses. Walking through the charred apartment, Wong said, “I mentally couldn’t remember the layout of the house.”
Until Wong and his roommates find a new apartment, University Life has stepped in and offered immediate housing, as well as other supplies. Mary J. Wardell, associate vice president of University Life and dean of students, said, “As soon as we found out, our philosophy was that we were going to do whatever we physically could to support them.” This support included temporary housing in Lone Mountain, a $50 meal card for each student, bedding, laundry detergent and toiletries. After meeting their basic needs, Wardell said,“We [helped] them think through what they needed to do.” She also sent out a message about the incident to each school at USF in the event that one of the students needed to miss class.
The tenants did not have individual renter’s insurance, but several of their parents have policies that could cover their losses. This on-campus housing is temporary and the students are expected to be taking active steps to find permanent housing. Although rooms on campus are in high demand, the transitions that occur at the beginning of the new semester freed up some space for the fire victims. Wardell said that the students are all looking for a new apartment. In the meantime, Wong is living at a friend’s house near campus.
“I’m trying to stay positive,” he said. “It’s a major thing and I’m grateful that I’m safe.”