Written by Josh Hughes
Two Southwestern students were forced to jump from a second-story window early Sunday morning when the house that they were in caught on fire, leading them both to sustain minor injuries. The house was being rented by three members of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, all of whom lost much of what was in their rooms at the time of the blaze.
Junior Lauren Brown, said that her boyfriend, senior Martin Irish, woke her early that morning asking if she smelled smoke. She said that she did and went to her bedroom door to check the house.
“I opened it and smoke came pouring in,” Brown said. “We could barely breathe, we were coughing.”
Brown then tried to open the window on the front side of the house, but discovered it was stuck. Irish managed to open a window facing the backyard where police were waiting below. Although reluctant to jump, Brown said that she saw little other choice. The couple sustained minor injuries from jumping the window. Brown said that she cracked her heel and broke one of her thumbs, while Irish broke his foot in two places.
Brown and Irish were unsure if they were the only ones who were in the house at the time of the fire because junior Anna Harpst, another resident, had been in the house the night before. However Harpst had left early that morning to stay at her girlfriend’s house. Brown and Irish were unable to reach Harpst on her cell phone, so it was not until they called her girlfriend, senior Hailey Ormand, that they knew she was not in the house, Harpst said.
“I had left after they went to bed, so they were not sure if I was in the house or not,” Harpst said.
Brown said that the fire was discovered by a couple that was driving past the house on their way to work. The man went into the house to make sure that no one was inside while his wife stayed in the car honking the horn to try to alert anyone that may have been inside. Brown said that by the time that she and Irish exited the house, a crowd of neighbors and emergency workers had gathered.
The Georgetown Fire Department was called to the scene of the fire at 6:47 a.m., and by 7:46 a.m. they had put out the blaze. The fire started on the front porch of the house, according to Georgetown Assistant Fire Chief Clay Shell, who also said that it was deemed accidental in nature by investigators. According to Shell, it was likely an electrical fire, possibly caused by an extension cord plugged into some yard lights in front of the house, but fire investigators were unable to tell for sure. While this was as far into the cause that the Georgetown Fire Department is planning to look, Shell said, the company that insured the house might hire someone to look into it further. The damage to Red House was “substantial,” and even the house next door had sustained minor damages, according to Shell.
John Spangle, the owner of the house, said that he would have to see what kind of insurance settlement he received, but that the damage was so extensive that the price of rebuilding might just be too much.
“More likely than not, it will have to come down,” Spangle said.
Two of Spangle’s children who were SU students have lived in the house, and, according to Hapst, Southwestern students have been living in the house for many years. Hapst added that the fact that it has not just been strangers living in the house made the fire even harder.
Not only did the fire cause substantial damage to the house, but the contents of the Red House were also damaged. Brown said that the women were able to salvage a few things from the house, but lost things like books, bedding and even electronics.
“Pretty much all of our stuff is gone,” Brown said.
Junior Whitney Battarbee, the third resident of the house, said that she had been out of town on a trip to watch the Southwestern baseball team when the fire occurred, but that the things in her room were harmed.
“My room was probably the worst, from smoke damage,” Battarbee said.
“Harpst said that almost everything in her room was made unusable, including her clothes, a DVD player and money that she had left there.
“I lost everything in my room,” Harpst said, “you name it.”
In an effort to help the displaced students, the Office of Residence Life sent out an email Tuesday, March 3, asking students, faculty and staff to help donate items such as textbooks, furniture and clothing. The Southwestern Bookstore has also agreed to donate clothing and school supplies to the affected students.
“I’m giving every one of them one of everything we have,” Larry Connell, the manager of Southwestern’s bookstore, said.
Connell said that as soon as he found out that women had lost so much, he called hem up and offered to help.
“It it just something that I like to do,” Connoll said, mentioning that he had done this before in his almost 27 years at the Southwestern bookstore.
“All three of us are so thankful for everything that people have done for us,” Battarbee said.
Harpst said that the outreach has not just been from those close to the residents.
“Friends and not friends, there are people helping us,” Hapst said.
The women said that they have found a house off campus where they will live together again. They expect to move in as soon as their two-week application review is finished. Until then, however, they are without a place of their own.
“Right now I’m floating between friends,” Brown said of the time in the interim.
Battabee said that she was staying with her boyfriend until she could move into the new house, and Hapst said that she was staying with Ormand.
Hapst was encouraged by the kindness that people have shown, and wanted to thank “everyone, even if they’re just telling us they’ll help, offering us things, anything that helps us get by. Basically all we have is people helping us out, and that’s enough.”
If you would like to help the victims of the fire, please contact Residence Life.