LAUREL — Dozens of people are homeless after a three-alarm fire Thursday destroyed an apartment building that occupied the former Rigbie Hotel, a downtown landmark that had stood for more than a century.
Fifty-four occupants of the multifamily apartment complex were displaced by the fire. All occupants were able to escape without injury, said John Galaska, deputy state fire marshal. Damage is estimated at $1 million, he added.
Firefighters from Laurel and Blades and Sussex County Emergency Medical Services were initially dispatched to the building at 118 N. Central Ave. just before 7 p.m., said Laurel Fire Department spokesman Mike Lowe.
In all, more than a dozen fire departments from Delaware and Maryland were involved in the response and backfilling, according to Mr. Lowe.
The first responding units found fire visible and upgraded the call to a second alarm, bringing units from Delmar, Seaford and Sharptown, Maryland, authorities said.
Search efforts revealed that all had been evacuated from the structure, and an interior attack was initiated, Mr. Lowe said.
Upon entry, firefighters determined that the fire had extended up the walls of the building. At this point, a third alarm was requested, bringing in fire personnel and apparatus from Bridgeville and Gumboro, he said.
Nearby residents assisted the firefighters with care and shelter of those who were displaced, Mr. Lowe added.
A shelter was established at Laurel Fire Department’s banquet hall Thursday night, he said. Numerous efforts seeking support to assist impacted families sprouted up on Facebook and social media, as well.
Once a hotel in the middle of the Laurel community, the Rigbie featured a banquet area, bar and lodging facilities, he said. In recent years, it had deteriorated and was being used for 16 apartments, 11 of which were occupied at the time of the blaze.
Firefighters remained on the scene for 10 hours, and the historic structure was declared a total loss, fire officials said.
Investigators have located the origin of the fire, but the cause remains unknown, Mr. Galaska said.
Community outreach and response to clothing needs for those affected was immense.
Now, the need is monetary donations for displaced occupants, who are sheltering in two hotels and another location in Seaford, courtesy of the Good Ole Boy Foundation.
“Last I heard early (Friday) morning was they did not need any more donations of clothing. We had a ton of clothing come in,” said Laurel Town Manager Jamie Smith. “When I left the fire hall (Thursday) night, it looked like they still had clothing that wasn’t even taken because there was so much of it that came in. The donations that they need now are monetary donations. These people are in hotels, and that way (they) can purchase food and get some of the essentials that they need besides the clothing.”
Ms. Smith said her understanding is that the complex’s owner will “be putting them in a hotel for a short period of time, as well, until he can transition them into some other properties that he owns throughout Sussex County.”
The Good Ole Boy Foundation is also spearheading a donation campaign, which can be found here.
On Friday morning, the foundation posted the following statement on its pages: “We are thankful this morning no lives were lost but 12 families have lost all of their possessions. Many of these families arrived at the fire hall with no shoes. Most had dead phones and couldn’t even call loved ones because their chargers were lost in the fire. Fortunately, no one was lost and many of these items can be replaced over time, but they are devastated. We are collecting to help them get them back on their feet.”
One of Good Ole Boy’s co-founders, Josh Wharton, added, “On behalf of the Good Ole Boys, we want to thank the community for their amazing outpouring (Thursday) night. Even Laurel School District, there were several faculty members there, willing to help. It was a really nice display of caring and love.”