A fire, accidentally ignited by a student's cigarette, gutted a Hill House room early yesterday morning, injuring no one but forcing hundreds of students to evacuate the dormitory for nearly two hours. According to Director of Fire and Occupational Safety James Miller, Engineering freshman Marc Lewis was repairing a shoe in his room when the cigarette came into contact with fumes from the glue he was using to repair the shoe, setting the glue on fire. Lewis and College freshman Arthur Czapka, who live in room 517, thought they had put out the small fire, but a spark entered a closet and within several minutes the contents of the closet were in flames. An automatic alarm alerted the Philadelphia Fire Department, University Police and Physical Plant officials at 3:34 a.m., and the fire was extinguished within 15 minutes of their arrival. The fire destroyed everything in the closet and blackened the room, but it was contained by Hill's cinderblock walls and did no serious damage outside of the room. Yesterday, the room stood charred and empty, its contents either destroyed or removed. Cleanup will take several weeks, officials said. Both Lewis and Czapka, who spent yesterday morning in a Hill House lounge, will be relocated to other rooms in Hill House. They could not be reached for comment yesterday. Yesterday, on the fifth floor of Hill House, a layer of soot covered the black linoleum outside Lewis and Czapka's room as their next-door neighbors wiped grit from books that had been saved from the fire and piled them in grimy milk crates. Fifth-floor residents said when they came out of their rooms shortly after hearing the fire alarm, they saw some smoke but did not realize the seriousness of the fire until after they were outside the building. The dormitory had a false alarm last week, and many students said they thought a fraternity's pledge had set off the alarm as a prank, so they were reluctant to believe that the fire was real. "We just had a drill last week, so some people thought it was only a drill and tried to sleep through it," said Tyler Dickovick, a Wharton freshman who lives in room 519. Students' skepticism about the fire coupled with many students' impression that the alarms were too quiet to hear created problems for firemen and University Police officials trying to evacuate the building. According to Senior Administrative Fellow Maria Elena Vieira-Branco, sleeping students were pulled out of their beds by Hill managers, graduate fellows and safety personnel. "What's puzzling to me is even though the alarms are so loud, there were some people that needed to be removed from their rooms," Vieira-Branco said. Vieira-Branco added that while she knows that all the students in the immediate vicinity of the fire were evacuated, she is uncertain that everyone left the building. Students were kept in Bennett Hall, across the street from Hill House, until fire safety officials declared the building safe shortly after 5 a.m. Vieira-Branco said that when she went to speak to the students, she estimated approximately 500 of Hill's 541 student residents were present. But she emphasized that this does not necessarily imply that the building was improperly evacuated. "I felt there were not quite 500 students, which can be explained by people being elsewhere on campus," she said. Ironically, Hill House administrators planned a fire drill for later this week, and GFs were instructed to review fire safety procedures with residents. The fire came at an inopportune time for many students in Hill who had midterm examinations or papers due yesterday. All the residents stayed in Bennett Hall until 5 a.m., and students who live on the fifth floor were barred from their rooms until after 10 a.m. and had to sleep in lounges. Vieira-Branco said she contacted advisors in the undergraduate schools to facilitate special arrangements for students who were unable to complete their work. College freshman Duane Och skipped the Calculus 141 exam that he was studying for when the fire started, but Engineering freshman Scott Goldman, who had to be woken up by firemen, said he took the exam. He said students were instructed to write "Hill" at the top of their papers so they could be reevaluated if the students felt their performance was affected. Marisel Moreno, an Engineering sophomore who lives next to Czapka and Lewis, took her physics exam even though she was up all night. "I said I'd give it a try," she said. "And I talked to the teacher and he said if it was bad, we'd talk about it."Comments powered by Disqus
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