*Editor’s Note on March 25, 2021 at 9:20 p.m.: Information regarding Village Green has been added to more accurately reflect its involvement in the aftermath of the fire.
On March 22, a massive fire destroyed part of the roof of an apartment building at Village Green apartments, displacing 77 current NC State students and 20 other residents, according to Justine Hollingshead, assistant vice chancellor of the Division of Academic and Student Affairs (DASA). The fire started between 9 a.m. - 10 a.m. at 2110 Thesis Circle off of Lake Wheeler Road, according to the Raleigh Police Department.
According to Hollingshead, Village Green made the decision to cancel all contracts for residents affected by the fire, contradicting a previous announcement that Village Green would relocate students either within the complex or at sister properties.
James Pearce, a chief fire investigator for the Raleigh Fire Department, said units were first dispatched to the scene around 9:24 a.m. and arrived around 9:29 a.m. Pearce says that the fire was marked as “under control” at 11 a.m.
Justin Lin, a fourth-year studying business administration, said he first found out about the fire between 10 and 10:30 a.m.
“My roommate texted me and was like ‘Hey, our apartment is apparently on fire,” Lin said. “You know, at first...I literally scrolled down on my phone to check the date because I thought it was an April Fool’s joke.”
Everyone who was at the apartment at the time of the fire was evacuated safely, according to Pearce; however, one resident was reported to have minor injuries. Pearce did not have an exact head count as to how many of the 94 registered residents were there when the fire began.
Dani Carter, a third-year studying animal science, talked about what it was like for residents in the building when the fire began.
“I was actually asleep in bed when it was happening,” Carter said. “I woke up to the sirens because the fire alarms didn’t go off at first, and I looked out my window and there were a bunch of people staring at my building and I was like ‘Oh, that’s weird.’ Then, the fire alarm started to go off, so obviously, I grabbed my cat and my phone, no shoes, and I looked to my right, and the whole building was just engulfed in flames.”
Raleigh police originally reported the fire began on a second floor balcony of the apartment. It then caught on the vinyl exterior walls and worked its way up where it burned through the roof and severely damaged a large portion of the third floor units.
The fire rendered the entire building and its 24 units uninhabitable, according to Pearce. Twelve of the units, mostly on the top floor, were deemed uninhabitable due to severe damage caused by the fire directly. The remaining 12 units were uninhabitable due to fire-related damage, such as water damage from the sprinkler system, the firefighters’ suppression efforts and damage from debris from the collapsed roof.
“The fire sprinkler system does its job inside, which is to try and conserve property and save lives,” Pearce said. “But when the fire originates on the exterior and…burns up and out and then gets on the roof, that sprinkler system, it will still save lives and some property, but then...you have to do suppression efforts, which in turn causes a lot of water to get into the building.”
Pearce said his investigation revealed the fire was started by accidental means not related to smoking mechanisms, such as cigarettes. He could not give the exact cause of the fire due to North Carolina policies.
Carter said the fire itself was not the most shocking part. For her, the aftermath was extremely difficult because that’s when the shock began to wear off.
“It had started to settle in a little bit, like ‘Wow, I might not have a place to live anymore. I might not be able to live with my roommates anymore,’” Carter said. “My whole world was just turned upside down.”
Carter said Village Green has been working with the residents to schedule times to safely collect belongings from the salvageable rooms. Lin, however, was unable to collect his things due to the severity of the fire.
“Walking up the stairs and just seeing all the debris and the ash and stuff, and then walking into my room and seeing that there was no ceiling,” Lin said. “Half the ceiling was on my desk crushing my TV. Half my furniture was on my bed, and everything was covered in ash and water. Just seeing all of that and seeing all of my stuff just destroyed, that was kind of when I was just like ‘Oh, yeah, I really just have to start over now.’”
*According to SeQuoia Watkins, assistant manager at Village Green, the staff at Village Green is striving to do as much as possible for all impacted individuals in terms of financial aid.
*“We’re trying to be proactive about that just because we didn’t want everybody to be up in panic,” Watkins said. “The first thing I did was pull everybody’s information for anyone who had any kind of insurance with our property, as well as ones who do not have insurance with our property.”
Although Lin believed he was one of the more unlucky residents, he was incredibly thankful to have received support from the community to help move him forward after the fire.
“As soon as my friends found out that my apartment burned down, actually about seven or eight of them messaged me and were like ‘Hey, dude, do you have, like, a place to stay? Like bro, my house is open, my apartment is open,’” Lin said. “Even a bunch of random people asked if I had a place to say... Just for me, that means a lot.”
Carter also shared similar experiences of community after the fire and recounted how people stepped up and helped out while the fire was being put out.
“While we were sitting outside, waiting for the fire... I think I had about five people that were like, ‘Do you want a sweatshirt? Do you want a jacket? Do you want me to run back into my room and grab shoes?’” Carter said. “I think that was a very important part. Like, so many people were offering to help pure strangers they had never seen in their life, which I really appreciated because it was obviously a very stressful situation for us.”
*According to Watkins, the Village Green staff has been working extremely hard to support the impacted residents by any means possible, from reaching out for donations to working extra hours to address any additional concerns regarding the fire.
According to Carter, multiple other organizations, such as NC State’s Pack Essentials and the American Red Cross, came to the residents’ aid that day.
Even with the resources being offered by NC State, residents still have the financial burden of purchasing everything they lost in the fire. For Lin, this includes his school computer. His fraternity brothers created a GoFundMe page to help cover some of the essentials. According to Lin, the last time he had checked it, they had raised $1,200 of the $5,000 goal.
“Honestly, I am shocked we even got that much,” Lin said. “Everybody that has donated and just all the support I have gotten is just overwhelming, honestly.”
All of the residents of Village Green will have a long recovery process. Both Carter and Lin expressed deep gratitude towards the community, NC State and their friends and family for helping them during this time.
*“We are still Village Green, we are still the community that cares and the community that stands with you,” Watkins said. “We are going to and continue to do everything we can for all of our residents — NC State students, Shaw students, Meredith students, William Peace students — everyone that lives here who we are responsible for.”
*Village Green is currently accepting donations for its affected residents. Those who are interested in contributing money, gift cards or other necessities are welcome to drop off their donations at 2000 Village Bluff Place in Raleigh.
For more information about resources available to Village Green residents, visit the Pack Essentials website. To connect with a trained professional to talk about the incident, visit the NC State Counseling Center website.