UPDATE(March 28, 4:26 p.m.): Harrisonburg Fire Chief Bennett addressed the media around 2:30 p.m., stating that all residents evacuated the buildings safely. According to a firefighter, when responders arrived at the scene, they began opening doors and several animals immediately fled the flaming building.
Animals may be wandering around the area. Anicira veterinarians advise everyone to not chase the animals since they went through a high-stress situation. The death of a cat in one of the buildings that caught fire has been confirmed.
According to Bennett, the fire began at the back of the building and rose to the attic, destroying the third floor of apartment building 1083. No specific cause of the fire has been identified yet.
In response to the fire, the university will be setting up programs for textbook and supply replacement, computer loans and short-term cash loans according to University Communications. Students will also be offered housing at local apartments and the university will offer on-campus housing. The university will work with students to accommodate for missed classes due to the incident. Assistance will be available for those without meal plans as well.
A fire broke out in the 1000 block of Lois Lane at Southview Apartments. It has since been contained, according to a tweet from the Harrisonburg Police Department.
At this time officials are unable to make an official statement as to what caused the fire. They ask that anyone living in the complex to check in at the clubhouse so they know everyone is accounted for and alright.
I.J. Bennett, Harrisonburg Fire Department’s fire chief, said when addressing the media that the fire started at the back of the building and moved to the attic. There is one confirmed death of a cat. It is unknown at this time if any other pets are OK.
Of the buildings affected, two buildings on the inside are uninhabitable and those on the outside (left and right) only possessed exterior damages. It’s unclear which buildings specifically were affected.
An email from University Communications confirms the fire occurred shortly after noon. Students leasing in building 1083 have been accounted for. The email states those living in buildings 1073, 1083 and 1093 have been asked to check in at the clubhouse on 1070 Lois Lane.
As of right now, it looks like no one was injured. Officials also ask to check the police and fire department Facebook and Twitter for updates and to retweet to get the word out and help those affected.
“I was just hanging out in my room and then I heard kind of like a large explosion, and then, I opened my front door to see what was happening and I saw people running out, so then I grabbed my backpack and computer and just a few things to get, grab and go,” Tommy Biagini, senior graphic design major said. “And then, I just kind of came out in the front and saw that the building next to us was kind of engulfed, and then, we were asked to move back.”
Sam Pham, junior health science major called the fire department when she saw the fire. She was at the bus stop around noon when she saw “a light smoke that came out.” She noticed that a fire alarm wasn’t going off and heard a “boom and then a rush of black smoke came out.”
According to the Office of Residence Live, the Harrisonburg police department called them and said that Southview will be arranging temporary housing for students. It is not yet known where that will be.
There is additionally a GoFundMe, organized by Courtney Brogna, to help the Dukes in need. As of 3:12 p.m. it has raised $21,445 by 1,338 people. The GoFundMe page was also updated at 2:46 p.m. to inform JMU students of a free dinner to be hosted tonight in Madison Union room 304 from 7-8 p.m. The dinner was organized by the Muslim Student Association and the page urges students to inform those impacted by the fire.
Additionally, a donation drive is being held at 865 Port Republic Road and is accepting nonperishable goods, toiletries, school supplies and clothing for students.
The counseling center is at the scene to offer support to anyone who needs it. They also ask that students come to them with any help they need. The center is open from Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Its walk-in hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or students can make an appointment in advance.
For those who live on or near Devon Lane, expect traffic. The street is additionally blocked off about half-way down near the Foxhill's clubhouse.
Story will be updated as information comes in. Follow @TheBreezeJMU on Twitter for more updates.
Abby Church, Shanna Kelly, Ivan Jackson, Katelyn Waltemyer and Connor Murphy contributed to this report.
Contact the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.