Lambeth electrical fire displaces students amid heavy snowfall, freezing temperatures

The fire is believed to have originated in a breaker box in building 456 of the Lambeth Field residences

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University Police Department officers and personnel from the Charlottesville Fire Department investigate dorm rooms on the first floor of building 456 of the Lambeth Field residences Sunday, where an electrical fire broke out during the afternoon. 

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

About 25 to 35 students will be displaced from their dorms Sunday night after an electrical fire at Lambeth Field residences during the afternoon that left three apartments without power after officials decided to turn off electricity due to safety concerns. No injuries were reported by officials as a result of the incident. 

The Charlottesville Fire Department responded to an electrical fire at the Lambeth Field residences at 2:55 p.m. Sunday. According to a U.Va. Emergency Alert, the fire originated in building 456, which was deemed unfit for student residency Sunday night by officials on the scene. 

Sgt. Mark Pannell of the University Police Department and University spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said Housing and Residence Life staff are working to secure accommodations for the displaced residents from building 456 — approximately 25 to 35 students. 

The situation was cleared at 3:20 p.m. Sunday, 10 minutes after the University issued an emergency alert warning community members to avoid the area. 

In an email to The Cavalier Daily, de Bruyn said the source of the fire was believed to be a breaker box in the building, although the exact cause of the incident is still unclear. He added that power was expected to be restored to all of the affected buildings by Sunday night, except for three apartments. 

Students who were evacuated from their buildings stood in heavy snowfall, waiting for answers from officials on the scene. Many did not have proper winter clothing as they had exited their buildings expecting to return quickly. 

Pannell, who communicated updates to students on the ground throughout the incident, said buildings 454, 456 and 458 were all evacuated due to the fire, or as many as 100 students. Pannell added that Facilities Management decided to turn off the power for all three buildings due to safety concerns. 

After UPD and CFD personnel cleared the scene, students residing in the affected buildings were briefly allowed to return to their rooms to obtain any items they might need, but Pannell said all residents in building 456, where the fire originated, would not be able to return to their dorms Sunday night. 

Officers from the University Police Department and personnel from the Charlottesville Fire Department could be seen crowded around the first floor of building 456 at approximately 3:15 p.m., and no flames or smoke were visible from the outside of the building.

Students sought refuge in nearby dorms which were unaffected by the fire or walked to the Lambeth common area while officers investigated the incident. Several students lamented the impact the incident may have on their efforts to prepare for final exams, which begin Monday. 

Will Ford, a second-year College student who lives in the first floor of Lambeth 456 where the fire broke out, said he had just finished taking a shower when he heard a loud noise from the area of his dorm room. 

“I got out of the shower and heard this big boom, and so I ran out into our living area, and I saw [it was] our little electrical box,” Ford said. “It was smoking up a lot, and obviously we were kind of in a panic so we didn't know what to do … and then it just caught flame [and] started smoking up.” 

Ford said one of his roommates attempted to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher, but the extinguisher could not reach the flames inside of the power box. Ford said he and his roomates then rushed to evacuate the room and retrieve all of their valuables. 

“In a frenzy we tried to grab everything valuable to us — like laptops, phones, wallets, backpacks [and] stuff like that," Ford added. "My roommate was getting out of the shower too, and so we were in an extra frenzy because we just weren't dressed, and it's freezing outside so I didn't really know what to do.” 

Ford said his Resident Advisor instructed him to call 911 who told him to pull the exterior fire alarm switches outside, adding that fire department personnel were on the scene 10 minutes later.

Ford added that he and his roommates had noticed unusual noises originating from the power box in their common area before the fire occurred but didn't think much of them. 

“Our power box had been kind of glitchy, it had been making little buzzing noises,” Ford said. “We thought it was nothing to be concerned with or just the heat kicking on, but the floors above us — their boxes started smoking up as well, but theirs didn't catch on fire.” 

“There was heavy smoke,” Ford added. “By the time we exited you couldn't even see in there because there was just so much smoke.” 

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