Electrical fire near Hughes Hall leads to evacuation of all main campus buildings

Fire burned for over two hours before being extinguished around 10 a.m.

Electrical fire near Hughes Hall leads to evacuation of all main campus buildings

An electrical fire near Hughes Hall led to the evacuation of all main campus buildings on Sept. 29, 2018. 

An underground transformer fire near Hughes Hall that burned for over two hours led to the evacuation of all main campus buildings Saturday morning. No injuries were reported, according to AU spokesperson Mark Story.

The fire was reported at approximately 7:19 a.m. and was extinguished at around 9:52 a.m. by the D.C. fire department, Story said. According to tweets from D.C. Fire and EMS, the department had to wait for the power to be turned off to extinguish the fire.

The smoke from the fire led AU police to direct all students and AU community members to evacuate all campus buildings, Story said. By approximately 9 a.m., most AU buildings were cleared to be reoccupied except for Leonard, McDowell and Hughes halls, which were closest to the fire. 

“The evacuated buildings are being assessed for reentry and plans [are] underway for food service and decisions are upcoming soon on classes,” Story said in a statement at 10:20 a.m.

The University later announced that in-person classes on main campus Saturday were canceled due to the fire, but a conference in the Katzen Arts Center and AU athletic events will go on as planned. Classes and activities in the Spring Valley Building and Washington College of Law were not affected by the incident. 

Sheer Figman, a sophomore who lives in Hughes, said she was in her room this morning when the fire alarm went off. At first, Figman said, she wasn’t going to evacuate because the fire alarm went off over a dozen times in her freshman dorm last year, and “never for a real reason.”

“I only left my room because I heard someone in the hallway yelling ‘It’s real! It’s real!’” Figman said.

Figman said she was directed to go to the amphitheater and then the Mary Graydon Center, but the building was locked.

“The most frustrating part is how disorganized and illogical the response has been,” Figman said. “They should’ve known where the fire was and not to first send us to the amphitheater. They then should’ve sent us to a building that was open. They had us on the quad where we could smell the smoke.”

Freshman Maria Russinovich, who lives in Centennial Hall, said her floor’s fire alarms did not go off, leading resident assistants to wake up students and direct them to evacuate the building.

“We were all asleep and then I just hear yelling, ‘evacuate the building! RA on duty!’” Russinovich said. “Our alarms weren’t going off, the stairway [alarms] were going off, but our hall ones weren’t.” 

By the time Russinovich and her floormates were evacuated, her dorm had been cleared for re-entry, she said. 

“I think that due to the severity of the threat, they should have pulled the actual fire alarm, which would have woken us up in a much better fashion [and] gotten us out of bed and to the quad faster and at the same time as all the other floors,” Russinovich said.

Sophomore Bilal Aksoy, who lives in McDowell, said he went to the front desk of his building when he saw the fire and watched as AU staff called AUPD and began evacuating buildings.

“Considering the situation that they’re dealing with, I think they’re doing the best they can,” Aksoy said. “Until they [AU police and residence hall community directors] figure out where the fire is, they can’t really direct people. So as soon as more info came in, they took necessary action.”

mcarrasco@theeagleonline.com and hsamsel@theeagleonline.com

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