Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fire breaks out in Wyly - 14 Nov. 2006

As luck would have it, I and a group of my reporter buddies were coming out of a meeting one night and saw fire trucks lined up outside a university residence hall. I grabbed one of them, a photographer, found a notebook and ran to the building. This was the most breaking news I had done - go adrenaline!


Wyly Hall was evacuated after a fire erupted in the men's quad Thursday night.

University Housing said Friday the cause of the fire was from a lit candle in a room on the first floor of the east wing. Officials were unsure if the resident was in the room at the time the fire began.

Don Weston, assistant director of Housing, said the dorm's fire alarm sounded automatically, prompting other residents to evacuate. Campus police then arrived and searched room-by-room until the fire was discovered.

The fire department contained the fire to one room in the men's quad.

Eli Rhoades, Sallisaw freshman, lives in Wyly.

"I came out because of the fire alarm and I saw my RA [resident assistant] running," he said. "Smoke was billowing from the quad."

Rhoades said he did not take anything with him during the evacuation. He said the fire department arrived about 10 minutes after the alarm sounded.

"We had very minor damage because of a fast response," said Weston. "We are very proud of that."

After the fire came under control, resident assistants allowed five residents at a time back into the building to gather linens and personal effects. Housing provided linens to those whose sheets were damaged from smoke. Students were also provided water, and the on-campus convenience store Essentials stayed open an extra hour.

About 30 RAs came on scene to assist with the logistics of supplying Wyly Hall residents with accommodations.

"We set up a big operation to make sure students had a place to go, linens and everything they needed," said Weston.

He said the evacuation "couldn't have gone better." Sometimes, he said, not all students will leave their rooms when an alarm sounds.

"In this case, it went great," he said. By Friday, risk managers and campus police were still investigating the fire.

One RA went to the hospital Friday complaining of an irritated respiratory system.

The dorm reopened Friday afternoon to most residents. Those living in the affected areas of the dorm will not return until Monday, Weston said. According to Housing records, 91 students live in Wyly.

Wyly Hall Manager Sarah Slott said Thursday that residents gathered in Leoser Hall until officials could secure other accommodations.

"All over, wherever there are spaces," she said of the effort.

Weston said the displaced residents were assigned to "empty beds" in the Housing system.

Housing policy states candles, incense, oil lamps and other open flame objects are prohibited from resident halls. Weston said the penalty for burning a candle in a dorm room varies by the situation. A resident could watch a fire-safety video or be assigned to counseling. One might also face counseling and a fine for leaving a lit candle unattended, he said.

"This situation really demonstrates how dangerous this really is," said Weston. "This could have been a tragedy."

Housing asked the resident's name and room number be kept confidential. Weston would not disclose any penalties levied against the resident, but according to Housing policies found online, burning a candle can warrant a $250 fine, cost of repair or replacement and being placed on Residence Halls probation.

A professional firm from Tulsa has been contracted to clean the quad and remove the smell.