Grease fire at Appalachian Heights causes water damage, displaces students

Tucker Wulff

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Amidst a crowd of evacuees, an Appalachian Heights resident watched as emergency vehicles filed into the residence hall’s parking lot and rumors of smoke in the hallways spread amongst students.

Timothy Christopher, sophomore general theatre major and resident of room 108, decided to wait out the ordeal in his car where he could fend off the chilly Sunday air and blast the heat. As he waited, he pulled out his cell phone to let his roommates know their dorm may actually have a fire. 

As Christopher warmed his car, Noah Rabe, undecided sophomore and Christopher’s roommate, sat on the third floor of Belk Library where he saw emergency vehicles headed up Bodenheimer Drive toward Appalachian Heights and made lighthearted jokes about his room being engulfed in flames.

However, the fire wasn’t in room 108, but the room directly above it. 

On Jan. 26, apartment 208 of Appalachian Heights was the location of a cooking-related fire, which set off the alarm and one ceiling sprinkler head, said Boone Fire Department Fire Prevention Captain Jacob Burleson. 

The fire spread to the back of the stovetop in room 208 and climbed up the wall when the sprinkler head was activated, Burleson said. 

“The sprinkler system is what suppressed the fire prior to our arrival,” Burleson said. 

Although only one sprinkler head was activated during the incident, the majority of damage was caused by water, Burleson said. 

“There was extensive water flow that got (room 208) and several rooms to either side of it and water leaking through the floor damaged some ceiling and electrical fixtures in the ceiling of the first floor,” Burleson said. 

After Boone Fire evaluated the scene, police officers brought the residents of room 108 to their room to collect their belongings, Christopher said. 

“We open the door and get inside and there’s just water pouring through the ceiling,” Christopher said. 

Furniture, bedding, bags and schoolwork were destroyed by the water. However, most of their valuables and sentimental objects were OK, said Alexander Boudreau, sophomore community and regional planning major and resident of room 108.  

Eleven of the building’s 290 residents were temporarily relocated because of water damage from the sprinkler system to the unit in which the fire happened, associate vice chancellor and chief communications officer Megan Hayes wrote in an email. 

The residents of 108 might be the last of the 11 to move back in, Rabe said.

“Our room got it worst,” Rabe said.  

Christopher, Rabe and Boudreau were given $20 on their express accounts to clean their clothes in dorm washing machines in addition to meal plan options, but they said they have had mixed experiences with University Housing since the incident. 

Boudreau said his experience with University Housing has been “not particularly stellar, and if anything, slightly below average.” 

Rabe said, “they have been the bare minimum of helpful.” 

“They kind of just dropped me off in a room and, like, gave me the new key and the 20 bucks on my express account and said, ‘good luck,’” Rabe said. 

Rabe has also had some difficulty with his academics because of the incident. 

“They had also told us that all of our classes and assignments over the weekend would be delayed, postponed, exempt … because of the circumstances,” but when Rabe returned to classes, he said his professors had no idea about what happened. 

“The teachers were 50/50 on that front,” Rabe said. 

In an email Hayes stated that the university “will continue working with these students to meet their housing needs until their apartments can be re-occupied.” 

“The timing of their return will likely vary as damage differs from unit to unit, but we are working to return them to their Appalachian Heights apartments as quickly as possible,” Hayes wrote.