Fire Breaks Out in Off-Campus Home

By Joe Flaherty

On Saturday night, a large fire engulfed a non-College house at 107 Weybridge Street rented by five College students. None of the students were harmed.

After battling the fire well into the night amidst freezing temperatures, firefighters were able to get the blaze under control and by late Sunday morning the fire was out. Middlebury Fire Department Chief David Shaw said the cause of the fire is as of yet unknown.

Sayre White ’15 was the only student home at the time of the fire. White had been asleep and woke up around 8 p.m. to the smell of smoke filling her room.

“I could hear the crackling and could see the flickering light outside the window,” White said. “I pulled back the curtains and looked along the side of the house and there were already 10-foot flames all over the porch.”

White believes that she was probably not in any immediate danger because of the house’s large size and the fact that the fire started on the opposite side. After evacuating her room, she ran outside and saw two students she knew who were pounding on the house’s side door to see if anyone was within.

Shaw was first on the scene and arrived two minutes after the call. He said there was an initial search for a person inside.

“It was reported to me that there was somebody still in the building on the second floor,” Shaw said in an interview.

After sending a first team through on quick search that did not find anyone, Shaw said, “Very shortly after they sent another team to search, it was reported that the person was accounted for.”

Meanwhile, the firefighters’ first effort to suppress the locus of the fire on the building’s porch went underway.

Around 9:45 p.m. a sophomore student walking past the house witnessed flames coming from the top of the building.

“There were flames coming out of the window on the third floor and nearby there were flames coming out of the rooftop and through the house structure,” she said. “It was pretty crazy.”

The emergency involved six other neighboring fire departments, in addition to the Middlebury Fire Department. The other departments were on the scene to assist the Middlebury firefighters because of the extreme cold.

“I saw about seven fire trucks go by while I was walking from town with my friend,” said Brennan Delattre ’16. “The area was blocked off with cones. There was smoke coming up.”

According to Shaw, at least three student volunteer firefighters from the College helped contain the flames.

“There were student firefighters on the scene who were actively engaged in the suppression of the fire throughout that period,” Shaw said.

White said that despite a combination of fire and water, thanks to the firefighting team some belongings were saved.

“The firemen did an incredible job of removing items that looked like they had a lot of sentimental or personal value into other rooms, so we’re beyond thankful for that,” she said. “They even unpinned pictures from my walls and moved them. I got quite a few items out.”

The fire was a 16-hour endeavor for the Middlebury Fire Department. Because of the cold, firefighters had to return to the station at 2 a.m. after the fire was under control. Shaw said that at 7 a.m., firefighters returned to put out remaining hot spots and were on the scene until 10 a.m.

The severity of the blaze was compounded by the age and wooden structure of the apartment. Made of long-timber lumber, modifications over the years such as interior walls caused the fire to spread. Shaw said he has not written the building off as a complete loss. Nevertheless, the building remains severely damaged, as are the belongings of the students who lived there.

In an email to the College community on Sunday, College President Ronald D. Liebowitz and Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of the College Katy Smith Abbott thanked the firefighters.

“We are deeply grateful that the students are all safe and we thank the Middlebury Fire Department, along with neighboring departments who arrived on the scene to help,” Liebowitz and Smith Abbott wrote. “We also want to thank the emergency first responders for their efforts overnight.”

In their email, Liebowitz and Smith Abbott wrote that the College is assisting the students who rented the house to find housing.

“We are working to support the students to find alternative housing and to assess their longer term needs as a result of what was lost in the fire,” they added.

As of Sunday, all of the students had been moved into new housing on campus. White praised the College’s efforts, particularly Smith Abbott, Atwater Commons Dean Scott Barnicle, Residential Systems Coordinator Karin Hall-Kolts and Associate Dean of Students for Residential and Student Life Doug Adams.

“They have gone above and beyond; they’ve been amazing,” White said. “They’ve offered to buy people new computers or to open a charge account at the bookstore to replace all of our books. Katy Smith Abbott has even organized people to do clothing drives, made sure we have down coats, offered to buy us boots—they’ve been absolutely incredible.”

White also said that she and the other students have been overwhelmed by support from Middlebury community members and fellow students.

“The amount of people rallying around us has been remarkable,” she said. “We are just incredibly grateful that none of us were hurt and that none of the firemen were hurt.”