Fire on Hemenway displaces students


File Photo by Dylan Shen

This year’s NUPD Safety Report shows NU leased properties lack fire safety.

Chris Butler and Riley Robinson

When her roommate called her to say their building was burning down, third-year electrical engineering major Natalie Luongo was down the street. Luongo ran for a few blocks until she reached home. The entire building was in flames.

“It was just very shocking. I didn’t believe it at first when my roommate told me,” Luongo said. “We could see smoke coming out of our windows, but we didn’t really know what was going on.”

She lived on the fifth floor of 104 Hemenway St. where a seven-alarm fire took place Saturday. The fire began on the second floor of the building shortly after 3 p.m. after an electric circuit sparked a fire on a cotton blanket, according to a report from the Boston Fire Department obtained by The News Oct. 31.

“I’m sure most of our stuff has been destroyed,” said Luongo, who hasn’t been allowed back into the damaged building. “At first I was really anxious about getting back and seeing if any of my stuff has survived, but as we’ve gotten more updates it just seems less likely that anything is left.”

The Boston Fire Department, or BFD, arrived to subdue the flames five minutes after receiving the call. The fire spread to 108 Hemenway St. by 3:45 p.m., and the roof of that building collapsed at approximately 4 p.m.

Firefighters doused the flames by 2:27 p.m. the next day when the last fire unit was cleared. BFD estimated the disaster caused $2 million in property damage and $200,ooo in damage to residents’ personal belongings.

Jenna Capuzzo, a fourth-year health science major, spent part of Saturday night gazing out her apartment window at the ruined buildings destroyed a few hours before. She watched emergency responders escort some students back to collect some of their belongings in plastic bags. But other residents were not as lucky — there was nothing left to retrieve.

“I could not keep watching this,” Capuzzo said.

She immediately reached out to her friend Nathan Hostert, the president of Northeastern’s Student Government Association.

“I texted Nathan and was like, ‘Can we do anything? My view from here is very somber.’”

Capuzzo wasn’t the only person spurred to action after the blaze. Through group chats, Facebook pages and posts to the NU Meme Collective, students at Northeastern and Berklee College of Music used the digital ecosystem to garner support for students now displaced from their homes.

The clothing drive on Northeastern’s campus will continue to collect items Friday for distribution this weekend. Berklee students collected items earlier this week and will host their first benefit concert Sunday.

“It’s really, really crazy how people are coming out to support us. I’ve walked by the clothing drive and seen just how much stuff has been donated,” Luongo said. “I feel like the community has really come together.”

Sam Haas, a fifth-year politics, philosophy and economics major, helped coordinate relief efforts between schools after reaching out on Facebook. He said the main goal of the supply drives is to “supply support around the edges.”

“We know Northeastern has been supporting them with some school stuff, but we’re trying to figure out if people have other school supply needs,” Haas said. “We’re kind of at the point where anything people think they can bring and help out with, we’ll take.”

Haas and Capuzzo said students reached out requesting backpacks, winter clothes, shoes, sheets and toiletries. Haas also suggested “items that make places feel like home.”

An Oct. 28 email from President Joseph E. Aoun to the student body said all displaced students have been given on-campus housing.

According to a News@Northeastern article, some of the displaced students now live in East Village, where the university says they have access to free dining hall meals and other essentials.

Luongo has been living in her friend’s residence at Boston University since the fire took place. However, she and her prior roommates recently signed a lease for a new apartment.

“Thankfully, we are no longer homeless. We have a place to live,” she said. “It’s honestly just so crazy to me that it happened, because I would normally see myself being on the other side of that.”

Nick Antonelli, a second-year guitar student at Berklee, is one of the organizers for his school’s support drive. The outpouring of support students gave in the past few days surprised him.

“I just came from sorting through the first wave today of donations,” he said. “We’ve got a room crammed full of stuff. It’s absolutely incredible.”

Antonelli has friends who lived in the affected buildings, and said they’ve been supported by a multitude of people.

“They seem to be in good spirits,” he said. “I know a lot of them found refuge in couches —  people offering them places to stay. Some people found hotels. Some people’s parents came in from out of town and started helping out. It’s really been a patchwork sort of solution.”

In true Berklee fashion, some students plan to use their artistic talents to fundraise for affected members of the community through benefit concerts organized online. The first is Sunday at 10 p.m. in Berklee’s cafeteria at 160 Massachusetts Ave. Another will be held Tuesday, Nov. 6 at The Lilypad in Cambridge.

“It’s a really hard process, but [the support] does make it feel a little easier,” Luongo said.

Luongo said she has been encouraging students to be prepared by investing in renter’s insurance, knowing their tenant rights and taking other precautionary measures.

“It’s really hard to move off campus. No one really tells you what precautions to take because you never think that your apartment’s going to burn down,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot from it.”

Nick Hirano contributed to this article.