After witnessing a fire tear through his apartment complex on Warner Street in Hamden Feb. 14, Quinnipiac University junior Tyler Woodward said the hardest part of the ordeal was yet to come.
The harrowing part came days later, Woodward said, when his insurance company sent him a spreadsheet to log the items he had lost in the blaze. All of his belongings, including a hat collection he had inherited from his grandfather and his roommate’s $5,000 shoe collection, were now reduced to a handful of attributes on a spreadsheet line.
“Honestly, that hit me harder than the actual fire because I was one-by-one listing everything I lost,” said Woodward, a business analytics major. “When the fire was going on, there was maybe a portion of time where I thought I was going to have some things.”
The fire broke out at Woodward’s apartment complex at 42 Warner St. in Hamden last week, shortly after 7 p.m. Hamden Fire Chief Gary Merwede confirmed there were no injuries. A press release from the Office of the Mayor said 60 people have been displaced as a result of the fire. Hamden Fire Marshal Brian Dolan told The Chronicle an investigation into what caused the fire is set to begin Feb. 23.
The town of Hamden offered the displaced residents emergency services, including CTtransit buses, American Red Cross services and vouchers for the Clarion Inn. The Keefe Community Center, which initially held the residents during the aftermath of the fire, held a drive for household items for the residents. The Hamden Community Emergency Response Team announced Feb. 20, it would no longer be accepting donations.
The Quinnipiac University Bookstore on the Mount Carmel campus also held a donation drive for the fire victims. Cheryl Cartier, the bookstore’s manager, said she organized the drive along with Vince Contrucci, director of community service. As of Feb. 21, the store had collected six boxes of items to bring to the Keefe Community Center.
“I’m a lifelong Hamden resident, and I saw the fire in the news, and just really wanted to help and thought that it’d be a good idea to have the bookstore involved to try to collect some stuff for the families,” Cartier said. “I know Quinnipiac has a strong commitment to Hamden residents and the Keefe center especially … there’s always better outreach when you elicit help from the community instead of doing it by yourself.”
Woodward and his girlfriend Elena Spangle, a sophomore international business major, said they had gone out for Valentine’s Day and returned around 6:45 p.m., with no signs of fire. Less than 15 minutes later, they heard screaming coming from outside.
“We looked out the window, and on the snow, I saw the reflection of the flames,” Spangle said. “It was just orange.”
Realizing what was happening, Spangle, Woodward and his roommate Zach Wolansky, a student at Southern Connecticut State University, evacuated the building.
Once outside, Spangle said they saw a building several doors down from theirs in flames, with the fire spreading rapidly.
“The way that the apartments work, there’s one attic that goes across all of them,” Spangle said. “So it was already spreading, and it was just dark black smoke.”
Witnessing the fire escalating, Woodward said the building’s residents realized its severity.
“As soon as everybody realized that this wasn’t going away, the fire is just gonna continue to spread, our neighbors (were) knocking on doors, getting everybody out, making sure there were no animals inside of doors that were locked,” Woodward said. “The fire department was smashing in doors to get anybody, any life they could out of the building.”
Woodward said he had also gone back into the building to rescue his own pet.
“I immediately ran back inside, because our guinea pig was still in there,” Woodward said. “Looking back on it, things could have gone way worse.”
Even once they had evacuated, Woodward said he did not think he would lose all of his belongings.
“When I first came out, I thought that that one part was going to catch on fire and it wasn’t going to spread,” Woodward said. “I was like, ‘OK, I won’t be sleeping here tonight, but my belongings will be safe.’ And 30 minutes later, that was not the case.”
With the loss of his apartment, Woodward moved home to Durham, Connecticut, and has been commuting to Quinnipiac from there. He said the university’s Community, Assessment, Response and Evaluation Team has since been in touch with him and Spangle to provide them support.
Woodward and Spangle, who kept some of her things at the apartment, are now determining what will be covered by renter’s insurance.
“You never know with insurance or anything, but we did start a GoFundMe, which has been really helpful so far and I’m sure it will continue to be, so that’s giving me hope,” Woodward said.
The GoFundMe fundraising page to help Spangle, Woodward and his roommate has raised $5,000 as of publication. However, Spangle said she worries more for the other families who have been displaced by the fire.
“I know that I’ll be fine and my boyfriend will be fine and his roommate will be fine, but I just feel bad for the families there because the socioeconomic status of a lot of those families is very different to ours,” Spangle said. “And we know that we have support systems but for a lot of those families, that place is their home and that’s all they have.”