by Drew Balis and Steve Bauer
The Fourth of July takes a disastrous turn for residents at a State College townhome complex Thursday night. Flames swept through the Waupelani Heights building, damaging all 19 nine units.
Alpha Fire Company chief Jeff Martin described the building as a “total loss.”
Firefighters say at least two residents were trapped by the fire and had to be rescued from an apartment balcony.
Members of the Alpha Fire Company raced to the scene shortly after the first alarm was sent out at about 8:15 p.m. A large crowd stood outside watching flames that blackened the structure. The fire quickly went to three alarms.
More than 40 firefighters were on the scene minutes later.
There are no reports of injuries to residents. We do know that no firefighters were hurt according to Martin.
Martin confirmed that all 19 units were occupied. It’s unclear how many residents were in the building when the fire began. It will take time to account for all of them. Some may be out of town because of the Fourth of July holiday.
Betul Akkopru, a graduate student at Penn State, lived in the apartment across the hall from where the fire began.
“My furniture and all of my school supplies are destroyed,” she says as her voice quivered while watching from across the street. “I can’t believe it. It’s horrible.”
Shaker Abdullhab, another building resident, was also in his apartment at the time of the fire.
“I could smell the smoke from inside. As soon as I got out, I looked to the right side of the building and flames were going through the roof,” he says.
A large crowd gathered across the street from where firefighters worked to get the fire under control. Some onlookers did not live in the building but smelled smoke and exited their homes to be safe.
Romayne Naylor, the disaster services response coordinator for the Red Cross says any Penn State students who were displaced will be temporarily placed in a campus residence hall. Families had the choice of staying with friends or other family members. If that was not possible, they would receiver shelter in a local hotel.
In addition to shelter, the Red Cross will be providing immediate financial assistance including providing cribs and diapers for babies and food for all victims.
A total of 40 people were left homeless as a result of the fire, but Naylor says the number will increase as the Red Cross is still trying to reach five units that were out of town for the Fourth of July.
The cause of the fire is not yet confirmed.