The fire at an off-campus W&L student house on Winding Way started early Thursday morning. Photo courtesy of Isidro Camacho.
Students on campus reported being able to see smoke from the fire from the townhouses in W&L's new Villages near Liberty Hall. Photo courtesy of Cassie McHenry.
Firefighters from the Lexington, Buena Vista, South River, Effinger and Kerrs Creek fire departments fought the blaze. Photo courtesy of Wes Cutler.
By Isidro Camacho
Slideshow by Polli Noskova
A fire early Thursday morning destroyed the popular Washington and Lee University party house known as Windfall, which sits atop the hill on Winding Way. All six of the house’s residents escaped the burning building unharmed, according to the university’s Public Safety office.
Lexington Fire Chief Ty Dickerson said the cause of the fire is still undetermined. He said he was astounded by the size of the blaze when his crew first came to the scene.
“I will tell you that those kids are lucky to be alive,” he said.
Rockbridge County Fire Chief Nathan Ramsey reported that fire departments from five different localities – Lexington, Buena Vista, South River, Effinger and Kerrs Creek – responded, reaching the house at 7 a.m. Firefighters pumped water onto the burning building for nearly 4½ hours before the blaze was extinguished.
Ramsey said the age and condition of the house made it a long battle for firefighters.
“There were a lot of spaces in the walls and the basement where the fire could hide away,” he said. “We had to cut holes in the ceilings and the floors to be able to fully put it out.”
There were seven fire trucks supplying water that firefighters used to fight the flames. Three tanker trucks provided 7,500 gallons of water.
The closest fire hydrant was 200 feet away in a neighboring subdivision. Once connected to a water source, Ramsey said the trucks were pumping an average of 500 gallons of water a minute.
The six students living in the house lost all their possessions. Within hours, a Gofundme page had been established to provide support for the victims. It had raised almost $25,000 by 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Windfall holds substantial significance for the W&L student community. People driving by on Greenhouse Road on a typical Saturday night would often see the house crowded with students — or partygoers at a roaring bonfire outside.
It is rumored that Bill Clinton played his saxophone at Windfall after the university’s Mock Convention in 1988.
Last year a student house on Randolph Street was set ablaze by a cigarette. A still-smoldering butt was wedged in between wooden planks on an external staircase of the historic Sheridan house, which had become a rental property known to students as Watergate. The ember slowly burned and grew large enough to engulf the top floor of the structure, with water damage and freezing temperatures doing more extensive damage. All of the resident students escaped unharmed.