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Six months later, Rolling Green fire questions remain 

  • Amherst Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren talks to media about an early morning fatal  fire at Rolling Green apartments Jan 21.<br/><br/>GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

    Amherst Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren talks to media about an early morning fatal fire at Rolling Green apartments Jan 21.

    GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

  • Fire crews fight the blaze at Rolling Green Apartments early Monday morning.<br/>STEPHANIE JERNIGAN

    Fire crews fight the blaze at Rolling Green Apartments early Monday morning.
    STEPHANIE JERNIGAN Purchase photo reprints »

  • Firefighters from Hadley prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Jan. 21 after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from 10 units.<br/><br/><br/>GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

    Firefighters from Hadley prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Jan. 21 after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from 10 units.


    GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

  • Two college-age women embrace outside the Rolling Green at Amherst apartments Jan. 21 where one man perished in an early morning fire. Some 30 people, mostly UMass students, were displaced.<br/><br/>GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

    Two college-age women embrace outside the Rolling Green at Amherst apartments Jan. 21 where one man perished in an early morning fire. Some 30 people, mostly UMass students, were displaced.

    GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

  • James "Jake" Hoffman died in a fire Jan. 21 at Rolling Green apartments in Amherst.

    James "Jake" Hoffman died in a fire Jan. 21 at Rolling Green apartments in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren talks to media about an early morning fatal  fire at Rolling Green apartments Jan 21.<br/><br/>GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
  • Fire crews fight the blaze at Rolling Green Apartments early Monday morning.<br/>STEPHANIE JERNIGAN
  • Firefighters from Hadley prepare to leave the Rolling Green at Amherst apartment complex Jan. 21 after an early morning fire that officials say killed one man and displaced some 30 tenants from 10 units.<br/><br/><br/>GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
  • Two college-age women embrace outside the Rolling Green at Amherst apartments Jan. 21 where one man perished in an early morning fire. Some 30 people, mostly UMass students, were displaced.<br/><br/>GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
  • James "Jake" Hoffman died in a fire Jan. 21 at Rolling Green apartments in Amherst.

“It feels like an open wound,” said Stephanie Jernigan, who, with her two children, was displaced by the fire. “There’s been no real closure.”

Though she and three other families quickly moved into other units at Rolling Green following the early morning blaze on Jan. 21, the new residence is far away from the one they lost.

“It still feels like we’re home but not home,” Jernigan said. “But the more time goes by it feels like we’re getting settled in here.”

Even now, circumstances of what caused the fire, and how James “Jake” Hoffman died, remain uncertain. Hoffman, a senior at the University of Massachusetts, died from smoke inhalation, but investigators believe he may have initially escaped the blaze and returned inside.

At the Belchertown Road entrance to the apartment complex, the burnt-out shell of the 10 units, with gaping holes in the roofs of the five units most heavily damaged, remains. Surrounding the building is a fence that, on the 21st of each month, is decorated with flowers to remember Hoffman.

This stark reminder of the disaster should change in the near future, said Building Commissioner Robert Morra.

Morra said he has reviewed the plans and issued a building permit, noting that no planning process is necessary since the repairs will bring the building back to the way it was prior to the fire.

Only a portion of the building will be demolished, Morra said.

“Approximately 80 percent of the roof structure will be replaced with new construction,” Morra said. “Additionally, there will be minimal selective demolition to areas within the structure that had been damaged by the fire.”

After the fire, Hoffman was remembered as someone who was always there to lend a hand and brighten the day for others. His friends and family have used his memory to help others affected in the fire.

“He was always willing to help others and be there for people,” said Seth Rotberg, vice president of the Jewish Leaders in Business at UMass. He knew Hoffman through their mutual interest in Jewish faith and culture.

UMass students raised money in Hoffman’s name for other victims of the fire, held benefits and collected clothes.

Kyle Brown, a friend of Hoffman’s, sold sweatshirts to honor the friend whom he said people gravitated toward.

“He always brightened up the room. Everyone was always stoked to see him,” Brown said.

Matthew Dornfeld, who helped put on a vigil for Hoffman at Hillel House the night following the fire, knew Hoffman since freshman year.

“Everything he did with A, a smile and B, to the best of his ability,” Dornfeld said.

Jernigan said Hoffman’s family has been in touch with other victims and sent money to fundraisers to aid them. All Jernigan was able to salvage from her home was a bin of photos, picture frames, a filing cabinet of paperwork and a snowglobe.

She’s grateful for the help, but can’t reciprocate to the family.

“They’re helping me replace things, but I can’t help them replace their son,” she said.

Jernigan, like others with children in Amherst’s public schools, said she thanks the teachers and students who led fundraisers and donated money and gift cards. Whately Elementary School, where her nephews go to school, also did some fundraising, and New 2 You consignment store in Sunderland held an online benefit for her family.

The support is heartwarming, she said. “You realize what an extended family you have in the community,” Jernigan said.

Jernigan said she and her children, Melanie and Jonevan, recently purchased backpacks and other school supplies that they will be donating to schools. “We want to give back in some way,” she said.

Even as the memory of the fire recedes, Jernigan said many at Rolling Green are growing worried about the looming threat posed by the likely loss of the affordability restrictions on more than 200 units. Jernigan said that what is happening at Echo Village Apartments, where residents with federal Section 8 housing vouchers are facing eviction, could happen in larger numbers.

Town Manager John Musante sad he has met with representatives of Equity Residential, which owns Rolling Green, and is convinced no changes are imminent.

“They are open to the town exploring with them the affordability options,” Musante said.

Comments
Legacy Comments3

But no sources willing to go on the record?

"investigators believe he may have initially escaped the blaze and returned inside." Why do they think that?

Because he was seen outside the apt. and then went back in.

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