Life sciences building to remain closed after fire at VCU

Smoke billows over the Eugene P. and Lois E. Trani Center for Life Sciences on Wednesday. Crews had the blaze under control before noon and continue to respond to flooding on the second and third floors. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Andrew Ringle, Executive Editor
Anya Sczerzenie, Staff Writer

Crews responded Wednesday to a fire on the roof of a university life sciences building that produced a towering cloud of smoke visible throughout the Fan neighborhood. Delays are expected on Cary Street as emergency vehicles continue to respond.

The Eugene P. and Lois E. Trani Center for Life Sciences, located at 1000 W. Cary St., houses the Department of Biology and the Center for Environmental Studies. VCU Police and the Richmond Fire Department were called to the building just before 10:45 a.m., according to a university release. The building was evacuated and no injuries have been reported.

“The fire appears to be limited to the roof of the building and VCU officials are assessing water damage on the third floor and second floors,” the release states. “The cause is being investigated.”

The center is expected to remain closed for several days, per the release.

Crews from the Richmond Fire Department and VCU Police close part of Cary Street to respond to a fire at the nearby life sciences center. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Dr. Tim Bajkiewicz, who teaches broadcast journalism at the neighboring T. Edward Temple Building, said he was walking to his classroom from the library when he saw the fire.

“As I was walking back, you could see black smoke billowing out of the building and firemen spraying water,” Bajkiewicz said. “It’s pretty bad that they had to bring the ladder truck because that means the fire may have gone through the roof.”

People in the Temple building and other nearby facilities received orders to evacuate as crews responded to the blaze.

“I went room to room, pounding on the doors, telling people to leave,” Bajkiewicz said.

The professor said a majority of students taking classes in the adjacent building simply went home or got on Zoom. Around 12 classes that were set to meet in the Trani Center on Wednesday are being relocated, according to VCU’s release.

The fire was under control and most of the smoke had cleared around 11:30 a.m. VCU tweeted an update to its emergency alert, stating that the life sciences building was closed but that adjacent buildings — such as the Temple Building, Oliver Hall, and Cary Street Gym — could reopen. 

The life sciences building has classrooms, lecture halls, labs, a rooftop greenhouse and an aquatics facility with research tanks.

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