|Riverknoll apartment 99 after the fire on Sunday, March 27.
It was the crackling that caught Daivy Parra’s attention. Unable to sleep, Parra, a fourth year Business Management major, was in bed when he heard it. Then he noticed a strange smell. Leaving his room to investigate, he found a horrifying scene: His apartment’s heating unit had caught fire. “Through the vents, you [could] just see the flames,” said Parra.
The fire in Parra’s apartment — Riverknoll apartment 99 — started shortly before 7:45 a.m. on Sunday, March 27. While quickly extinguished, it destroyed one apartment and left several uninhabitable.
After discovering the fire, Parra quickly woke roommate Lorena Pajaro, a fourth year Hospitality and Service Management major. Dressing quickly, the pair grabbed only their pet rabbits before running outside. Just as quickly as it began, the fire spread from the heating unit. “As we were running out … the living room was [already] engulfed with black smoke and flames,” said Parra.
Parra dialed 911. Henrietta Fire Department and Public Safety officials responded, and within 15 minutes the fire was extinguished. Although approximately 40 students were evacuated, no one was injured. By 12:50 p.m., most of these students were able to return to their apartments, according to a campus-wide email sent by RIT’s Chief Communications Officer Bob Finnerty.
While the fire was contained to only Riverknoll apartment 99, the entire unit containing apartment 99 has been quarantined. Several students, including Parra and Pajaro, were temporarily relocated to the RIT Inn. Parra and Pajaro have since been assigned replacement housing. Until officials have finished inspections, they cannot enter the building to recover personal belongings. The inspection process is expected to take approximately 10 days.
However, when they return, Parra and Pajaro aren’t confident they’ll find much. Allowed inside briefly to retrieve essentials on March 27, they discovered many of their belongings had suffered fire, smoke and water damage.
RIT has deemed Parra and Pajaro not responsible for the incident and will not hold them accountable for damages. The Institute will also reimburse their essential purchases, as long as they save the receipts. They’re grateful for the help. “RIT has been on top of things, helping us,” said Pajaro.
Since the fire, others have also reached out to help Parra and Pajaro. Barnes & Noble has donated replacement textbooks, and one of Pajaro’s professors has tried to collect donations for the pair.
Still, the fire has taken an emotional toll on both Parra and Pajaro. The two are adjusting to their new apartment, another Riverknoll unit. Having lost many of their belongings, they must work to recover their old life. “When we’re in the new apartment — it’s barely furnished — you sit there and think, ‘Man, I wish I was in my old apartment,’” said Parra. Even old routines are difficult to break. “The first couple days after the fire we would … walk [home to] the old apartment,” said Parra. “The routine is still set in.”
Although the scent of smoke still lingers around Riverknoll apartment 99, Parra and Pajaro are ready to move on. While they may have lost an apartment, the outcome could have been far worse. “We’re okay, that’s the most important thing,” said Parra. However, the memory lingers on. Said Pajaro, “It’s still kind of depressing going back into the apartment and seeing [the damage], it hits you.”