Five Rowan students were displaced by a fire Sunday morning, as heavy flames destroyed their Glassboro rental home.
The seven people sleeping in the house all escaped unharmed with no reported injuries. Initial reports say that the fire started in the kitchen where it most likely began on the stove.
Juniors Justin Panecki, Dakota Krokus, Charlie Carrero, Adam Coughlin and Joey Gaunt have been in their rental home since September 2015. Panecki’s girlfriend, Lauren Brinck of Bayville, and Gaunt’s girlfriend, Alli Vannoord of Vineland, were also in the house Sunday morning.
Vannoord said she woke up around 8 a.m. and smelled smoke, then heard her boyfriend’s roommate scream that there was a fire. By the time she jumped up, the whole upstairs was filled with black smoke.
“As soon as I heard him yell, I literally jumped up, grabbed anything I could, woke my boyfriend up because he was in shock and I just dragged him down the stairs,” she said. “It was literally all adrenaline.”
Vannoord and Gaunt only had time to grab a shirt, sweatshirt, a phone and the bed comforter to wrap around them. Neither of them had shoes on as they made their way outside into Sunday’s frigid temperatures.
“The smoke was so thick that even with the flashlight on my phone, I still couldn’t see anything,” Vannoord said as she recounted trying to get down the stairs and out the front door. “I literally had to close my eyes and hold my breath and just pray that I didn’t miss a step.”
“I’m so happy that Justin [Panecki] got up and started screaming because I thought that maybe one of them was just cooking,” she continued. “If no one would’ve said anything I probably would’ve fallen back to sleep.”
To escape the smoky stairwell, Panecki and his girlfriend Brinck jumped out of their second story window onto a deck at the back of the house.
Krokus was sleeping in the basement and didn’t see or smell any of the smoke. He woke up after he heard his roommates screaming his name to get out, ran up the stairs, through the kitchen and out the door unscathed.
“My roommate Adam [Coughlin] remembered that we have a fire extinguisher right outside the side door that connects to the kitchen and he tried putting the fire out but he was unsuccessful,” Gaunt said.
As first responders arrived, all seven drove to The Crossings apartments where friends gave them shoes, socks and clothes. Shortly after, parents of some of the roommates that lived nearby showed up to bring clothing to the students.
“My birthday just passed last week, so I lost all of my birthday stuff,” Gaunt said.
Nothing was saved in the fire. The boys lost everything including five laptops, five TVs — two of the five were Apple TVs — four mini refrigerators, a PS4 console, two Xbox 360s, a Wii, three cellphones, textbooks, clothing, furniture and a pet turtle.
“They had their whole lives in there and they’re already college students so they already have a lot on their plate to begin with,” Vannoord said. “The fact that they lost everything is probably the worst.”
Both Vannoord and Brinck started GoFundMe pages to raise money for the boys. Together, the pages are trying to raise $10,000 with just over $3,700 raised as of Wednesday morning.
Organizations from Rowan and the surrounding community have already reached out and are helping in order to provide relief.
A pastor from Glassboro Methodist Church reached out to the boys and offered to help. The Red Cross, who provided coffee to the first responders Sunday morning, gave the boys vouchers for clothing and numbers to local thrift stores where they can find clothing and furniture.
Two sororities reached out to help as well. Alpha Epsilon Phi donated money and Alpha Sigma Alpha plans to produce a fundraiser for the boys.
Gaunt said Dean of Students Richard Jones reached out to him and his roommates giving his condolences and offering to help.
“He [Jones] reached out to all of us individually today and wants to replace all of our textbooks,” Gaunt said. “He’s been very supportive and said if we needed anything to call him, he even gave us his personal phone number.”
There is even talk about providing meal plans.
The five students have all been relocated into emergency housing on campus, but when it comes to their rental home, Gaunt said their landlord has 90 days to find them a new residence.
There has been an outpour of support from the boys’ professors and friends as well.
“Each of us have gotten hundreds of texts from people around us offering a place to crash at their house or clothes or money,” said Gaunt.
Gaunt said his roommate Krokus and him had an exam this week for their Federal Taxation class. According to Gaunt, the professor is giving them as much time as needed for the exam, and is holding a review session for the two students.
“The first responders, The Red Cross, the school and anyone who has reached out to us, we’re really thankful for their support and we appreciate everything,” Gaunt said. “It just feels surreal, it’s like a bad dream and I’m just waiting to wake up.”