HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — The Harrisonburg Fire Department says everyone was safely evacuated from a massive fire in the Southview apartments on Thursday afternoon and the fire has been marked under control after a large-scale emergency response involving crews from up and down the Shenandoah Valley.
According to police, all tenants were accounted for and are safe. No injuries were reported among either civilians or firefighters throughout the fight to suppress the flames.
The fire department issued a tweet at 1:44 p.m. confirming that the fire was contained. By 4:30 p.m., the department said command had marked the situation under control.
Emergency responders are still urging people to avoid the 1000 block of Lois Lane on Thursday afternoon, as they have been warning since firefighters first arrived to the fire shortly after noon.
All students safe
James Madison University reported that all students in apartment 1083, the building which burned and lost its third floor entirely, were accounted for by early in the afternoon. They asked students who live in apartments 1073, 1083, and 1093 of Lois Lane to check in with property management at the clubhouse, and all students were accounted for.
Counselors were on hand at the clubhouse.
The university gave parents a number – 540-214-3453 – to see if their students had checked in.
Later in the evening, JMU confirmed that a total of 43 students lost their housing to the fire.
An alert was sent out to students at 12:38 p.m. warning them to avoid the area.
Students who have been displaced by the fire can contact Jim McConnel email@example.com or 540-568-3550. You can learn more about resources available to students and families, as well as how the public can help, in the bottom section of this article.
According to the Harrisonburg Fire Department, crews were dispatched at 12:06 p.m. for a report of a structure fire in the 1000 block of Lois Lane. A caller said fire was showing from an apartment there.
While some crews were tied up at a gas leak on the north end of the city, one engine arrived in just about three minutes.
When those firefighters got there, they found that fire from a ground floor apartment had spread to the attic and flames were shooting out of the roof.
The status of the fire was quickly escalated to a five-alarm.
Smoke could be seen from as far away as Cross Keys and from WHSV's skycam on Massanutten mountain as crews rushed to the scene.
A call went out for any off-duty personnel available to report and, in addition to Rockingham County and Harrisonburg crews, Augusta County firefighters headed north and Shenandoah County crews headed south to assist.
People from surrounding buildings were evacuated for safety.
The fire chief said building 1083 on Lois Lane was a total loss. The third floor of the building was completely gone by the time the fire was contained and, even once the fire was contained, crews continued to work on the first and second floors, both of which will be uninhabitable.
WHSV's Air3 drone showed the top of the building appeared to be completely gone by 1:30 p.m.
The department has not yet determined a cause of the fire.
There were smoke detectors and sprinklers, but the fire ran up the outside of the building, so sprinklers had no effect.
According to Chief Ian Bennett with the Harrisonburg Fire Department, the wind was not too bad when crews arrived, clocking in at about 8 mph. It may have been a partial factor in it spreading to the next building over.
Throughout the rest of the day, crews will have to tear off siding of the building and eliminate any hot spots they find.
“We appreciate the rapid response not only by city units but additional units from the surrounding area, which helped us to contain the fire primarily to one building,” said Chief Bennett. “It was a very aggressive attack by all units."
Buildings to either side of the fire sustained superficial damage, but no damage to their interiors.
Pets affected by the fire?
According to multiple sources at the scene, a student said they were not home at the time of the fire and had a dog inside, but the Harrisonburg Fire Department could not confirm that they had encountered any pets at the scene.
Staff with Anicira Veterinary Center arrived to the scene alongside emergency responders and let police know they're available to help any pets in need, but they told WHSV they haven't received any for treatment.
The Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA has posted photos of dogs to their Facebook page that they say are missing animals from the fire. The SPCA asks anyone who sees those animals to contact them so they can connect you with the pet owners. You can find that Facebook post at the bottom of this article.
A little before 6 p.m., the owner of "Echo" the dog, one of the pets reported missing in the fire, was allowed to go inside and found his dog hunkered down in the bathtub. You can find the heartwarming video of him being reunited with the dog and of the firefighters meeting him below.
The effect on city transportation
For those who rely on the Harrisonburg Department of Public Transportation buses, service at the Southview Apartments was suspended for most of the afternoon, and riders had to get to stops along Port Republic Rd. at Northview, Deer Run, or Liberty Station.
Due to the fire, police closed Peachgrove Rd. from King Edwards Way south to Neff Avenue and Lois Lane from Peachgrove Rd. to the point where Lois Lane turns into Devon Lane off of Port Republic Rd, but, as of 5:30 p.m., police reported that those roadways were open again.
Supporting displaced students and how you can help
Red Cross Virginia is on the scene in the parking lot of the apartment complex, working with property management, emergency services, and JMU to support residents of the destroyed building.
The Salvation Army is offering toiletries through James Madison University to to affected studennts.
Everyone who lives in apartments 1073, 1083, and 1093 is asked to contact the clubhouse as soon as possible to speak with property management and with counselors there.
Rocktown Realty, a Harrisonburg realty company, tells WHSV that they are heartbroken over the fire and want to help in any way possible. According to a press release, they have rooms available in Camden Townes on Port Republic R., one available in Pheasant Rd., and one in Campus View for any students displaced by the Southview fire.
Their leasing office is at 218 East Market Street and you can call 540-705-7080 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to learn more.
They'll also be setting up a donation box in their leasing office to welcome kitchen appliances, clothing, curtains, etc.
In addition, a GoFundMe was set up by Courtney Brogna to raise money for the students who lost their apartments and their belongings, calling for people to "help out your fellow Dukes in need." In just two hours, over $25,000 was raised.
GoFundMe has verified to WHSV that it's a legitimate fundraiser.
A donation box has also been set up by two JMU students in the 865 East lobby at 865 Port Republic Road. If you're a student displaced by the fire in need of support, they say to come by and get what you need.
Another site for donations has been set up in the clubhouse of the Southview apartment complex.
The university is working with the school's bookstore to establish a computer loan program for students affected by the fire and with their business department on short-term cash loans for students if needed. The school is also developing plans to provide on-campus housing for any students in need of it.
Accommodations are being made for missed classes, and they say is assistance is available for those without meal plans or those who need to replace lost prescriptions. Students seeking mental health support are asked to contact JMU's Counseling Center.
The university also says they're in the process of reaching out to each affected student individually to address specific needs.
Any students and families in need of any of these services are asked to contact Jim McConnel firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-568-3550.
One fraternity at the school, Delta Phi Epsilon, is hosting a fundraiser at Panera Bread from 4 to 8 p.m., in which a portion of the proceeds will go to those affected by the fire.
Anyone who wants to donate resources for affected students is asked to email email@example.com to coordinate the process.