GW houses 40 students displaced from Empire Apartments fire

An electrical malfunction in the Empire Apartments on 20th and F streets created massive amounts of smoke in the building, forcing residents to evacuate and several fire trucks to respond Wednesday morning.

GW is housing about 40 displaced students from the Empire Apartments on campus, and the Red Cross will find housing for the other residents because the building was without electricity and plumbing Wednesday night.

Electrical panels in the basement of the building most likely sparked due to flooding, D.C. Fire spokesman Alan Etter said at the scene. He said the electrical insulation in the basement caught fire, causing the smoke.

Etter said no one was injured and that paramedics will remain on the scene “because as these things unfold smoke inhalation” can become a problem. The fire department responded at about 10:40 a.m. As of 12:15 p.m., firefighters were still at the building, keeping residents from re-entering it.

The fire department cut off electrical power to the building and firefighters waited for the fire to smolder out before treating it with chemical extinguishers, Etter said. The University Police Department was also on the scene.

Part-time GW student and part-time professor Hamed Shamma, a resident of the building, said he evacuated after smelling smoke but didn’t remember hearing a fire alarm.

“I was sleeping. I smelled smoke. I didn’t suspect it was a fire,” he said. “The smell of smoke was increasing, increasing, increasing; all of a sudden there was no electricity.”

Jacuelyn Schell, a prospective GW Law student, was visiting a friend on the third floor of the building when the fire began.

“Somebody came up and said that there was a fire in the building,” she said. “I grabbed my friend’s cat.”

Schell said she did not hear an alarm and couldn’t use the closest stairwell to the room because it was filled with smoke.

“We went to a stairwell on the other side of the building,” she said.

Lucy Lunden, a Corcoran Art School student and the resident Schell was staying with, said she knew she needed to evacuate. “I saw lots of trucks outside so I knew to leave.”

GW offered residents from the apartment building the opportunity to wait on the fifth floor of the Marvin Center until they were allowed back in the building.

Tracy Schario, director of Media Relations said it is standard policy for GW to assist off-campus residents in emergencies, citing last year’s fire in St. Mary’s Court near New Hall where about five residents were permanently displaced for about a week and stayed in GW dorms. “Our policy is to be a good neighbor,” she said.

-Robert Parker, Ben Solomon and Katie Rooney contributed to this report.

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