U.Va. Chemical Engineering Grad Students Regrouping After House Fire

Oliver Daniel, Juan Lopez and Ernie Perez stand together in a line smiling at the camera

U.Va. students Oliver Daniel, Juan Lopez and Ernie Perez

February 18, 2010 — On the afternoon of Feb. 8, Charlottesville authorities received a call about a house fire at 203 Robertson Avenue. Fortunately, the residents of the burning house – three University of Virginia chemical engineering doctoral students – were safely on Grounds during the fire.

While the students were safe – as was their dog, a Weimaraner named "Icaro" that the police rescued from the back porch – the fire destroyed the house, along with almost all of their possessions and home furnishings. The students, who did not have renter's insurance, are now trying to regain a stable living situation while keeping up with their research and coursework.

In the days after the fire, the U.Va. community quickly sprang into action, setting up the Student Fire Relief Fund through the U.Va. Fund of the Alumni Association to raise money for the students.

Juan Lopez, a Ph.D. student from Spain, thought his roommate was joking when he first learned about the fire.

"I didn't believe that my home was on fire until I spotted black smoke rising above Scott Stadium as I was running to the scene," Lopez said. "When I arrived at my house, the firemen told me I had two minutes to salvage any of my possessions that were not already destroyed. I was lucky to recover my passport, a few pictures of friends and family, and some items from my closet."

Lopez's roommates, Oliver Daniel and Ernie Perez, also lost most of their possessions, including furniture, clothing and laptop computers.

Left with little to nothing, the students remain positive and are focused on re-establishing a home in Charlottesville. The University community, led by Aaron Laushway, associate dean of students, has supported these students in their recovery.

"Dean Laushway reached out to us immediately and provided what we needed to help us get back on our feet and continue our semester successfully," Lopez said. "We were given a meal plan, new laptops, clothing from the bookstore and help in finding a new home."

Daniel said that the landlord returned their February rent and deposit, and the trio has secured a temporary, three-month lease in another house until they can find a longer-term rental.

The fund set up through the Alumni Association has provided $1,000 to each of the students to help them set up another home. Remaining money in the fund will be held for students facing similar disasters in the future.

"We have been so happy with the Charlottesville community and the University throughout the past two weeks," Lopez said. "We lost pretty much everything, but through the help of the University, we have gained a lot."

— By Kathryn Welsh

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