After Somerville Fire, An Outpouring of Support for Displaced Harvard Intern

After the Fire
Courtesy of Carine Margez

A desk in a Somerville apartment lays covered in rubble just hours after a fire broke out early in the morning of July 25. Carine Margez, a graduate student from France working at Harvard for the summer, was allowed to return to her apartment later that morning to take this photograph.

When Carine Margez arrived in the United States at the start of the summer, she was excited to begin a four-month internship as a fellow at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. A graduate student visiting from France, she quickly grew to love the research she was doing: studying wastewater treatment under Chad D. Vecitis, an assistant professor of environmental engineering.

But Margez’s serene summer experience was harshly interrupted July 25, when a seven-alarm fire swept through her Somerville apartment early in the morning. Margez, who was asleep wearing earplugs when the blaze broke out, was jolted awake by her mother, who was visiting for the weekend. Margez managed to salvage her laptop, purse, and a few articles of clothing as she fled the building, but the rest of her belongings were completely destroyed.

Five apartment buildings were damaged, and more than 40 people were displaced by the fire. None of the residents were hurt, but two firefighters sustained injuries, according to the Boston Herald.

With few friends in the area she could contact, Margez was stranded with her mother and roommate with no place to stay for the night. Yet within hours, Harvard administrators found temporary housing for Margez in Conant Hall and began arranging a pool of donations for items she had lost.



After the Fire

After the Fire

Meg Hastings, an academic appointments manager for SEAS, said that when Margez and her mother came by her office that same afternoon, she could still smell the smoke on their clothes. Hastings put together a list of items Margez needed, which she sent out over a SEAS email list the next morning.

“Within minutes I started getting emails from people, and within an hour, people were showing up with bags of clothing and several suitcases,” Hastings said. “The response was overwhelming, especially on a rainy Friday afternoon in July when a lot of staff were on vacation [and] a lot of students [were] away.”

Hastings estimated that 25 to 30 people donated items, including clothes, toiletries, backpacks, and cash donations. In addition, Hastings said several people offered Margez a place to stay rent-free for the rest of her internship.

Margez said she is now living with a friend whom she met through a Shabbat dinner at the Chabad House at Harvard. She said she was overwhelmed and very grateful for the outpouring of support from the Harvard community.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be able to recover as well as I am now,” Margez said. “In France, I would never have had that kind of response. I think in the United States… people are more charitable, more outgoing in helping others.”

Margez said that when she contacted her friends back home, they all advised her to return to France and recover from the incident. However, Margez, who will return to her studies at Grenoble Institute of Technology–Phelma, decided to stay at Harvard until the end of her internship later this month.

“With all the help I’ve gotten, I think I owe them to at least stay and finish my project,” Margez said. “I want to also leave here with a good note, a good impression, and not leave with a fire in my mind.”

Margez was not the only Harvard affiliate affected by the fire. She shared the apartment with Sobambo O. Sosina, a graduate student in statistics. According to Sosina, three of his neighbors from the apartment are also students at the Graduate School of Design. In addition, Hastings said that a SEAS postdoctoral student lived in one of the buildings affected by the fire, but was able to recover most of his belongings.

—Staff writer Brian C. Zhang can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @brianczhang.


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