Lexington Fire Department responds to W&L Hillel kitchen fire

Members of the Lexington Fire Department respond to a kitchen fire at the Hillel House at Washington & Lee University on Monday. The fire was caused by cardboard boxes that had been left on a kitchen stove. (Avalon Pernell photo)

By Avalon Pernell, Megan Murchie-Beyma and Emma Coleman

Lexington firefighters responded to a fire at the Hillel House at Washington & Lee University early Monday afternoon.

Devin Kindle was working in Hillel’s E-Café, a campus dining facility, when the fire began.

“I actually did not get to see the fire. But one of my co-workers, she said she heard something pop or like explode and then after that she’s like, ‘Run,'” she said Monday. “We all evacuated. All of us are out safely.”

Jake Winston, a first-year student at W&L, said he was in an upstairs conference room when the fire alarm went off.

“Like five minutes before I was like, ‘Is someone like cooking s’mores?’ Because that’s what it smelled like,” he said. “We just assumed it was coming from a different building, and we kept doing work.”

The fire was cause by cardboard boxes that had been left on a kitchen stove, Lexington Fire Chief Ty Dickerson told the Rockbridge Report Tuesday.

“So, not a very big fire,” he said.

“It dawned on us, we did see someone go into the community kitchen and set something down,” Kindle said. “So, we went and checked that, and that was the source of the fire.”

Dickerson said the fire caused no structural damage to the building.

“It set off two sprinkler heads,” he said, “and the fire was mostly out when we arrived.”

The Hillel House, a center for Jewish life at the university, and its amenities are closed until further notice.

Dickerson said the department should be able to clean up any water damage in a couple of days.

Maggie Shapiro Haskett, the director of Jewish life at W&L, said she is grateful that no one was hurt.

“I’m doing well and am grateful to be surrounded by such a kind and supportive community, and thankful that yesterday’s accidental kitchen fire at Hillel was extinguished quickly and did not result in any injuries,” she said in an email Tuesday. “In coordination with University Museum, Special Collections, Public Safety and Facilities staff, we have moved the Torah and the Hillel art collection to secure storage. Thanks to the quick action on the part of those who responded, I feel confident that nothing irreplaceable was damaged.”

Shapiro said Hillel’s plans to help W&L students host their own small seders for Passover this year have not changed due to the fire.

“We’re putting the finishing touches on the how-to guides this week, I’ve already re-ordered the Passover foods that we lost yesterday, and our frozen kosher-for-Passover seder meals are arriving next week. We are in good shape,” she said. “Once repairs are complete, I look forward to bringing everything home to Hillel!”