Thursday, March 17, 2005

Cause of fire still under investigation

Staff Writer

Freshmen women were routed from their dormitory rooms in E.L. Rust Hall around 3:50 a.m. Tuesday morning after a fire was reported to 911 around 3:53.

Lt. Tracy Jeffries with the Holly Springs Fire Department said the fire apparently was started in an upstairs dormitory room where a student had been burning incense. No injuries to some 45 responding fire fighters or students were reported, he said.

Some students were in distress about the incident following a 10 a.m. meeting with school officials, according to Hortensia Dean, a professor in the department of journalism, who has agreed to accept four freshmen women into her home until the college completes arrangements for the women who were displaced from their living quarters.

Dean said the freshmen girls met with Dean Jackson, Dr. David Beckley, Dr. Ishmell Edwards, Rev. Clarence Smith and dormitory counselors from Emma Elzy Hall and Wiff Hall to work out arrangements to get the women back into a dormitory. A number of the residents were wearing their pajamas with shirts or coats covering themselves as they exited the meeting with school officials.

One student who did not want to give her name, said the smoke was not bad at the time of the fire but the odor was a problem. She said students went door to door awakening residents and getting them out of the dormitory.

Jeffries said all the students had been evacuated by the time fire fighters arrived at 3:58 a.m.

Dean estimated that from 100-110 students were in the dormitory, which has two wings. Freshmen women were excused from classes for the day, she said, adding that some faculty members were offering to take students into their homes.

Dean said some students were upset about what happened and wanted questions answered about what had taken place, about safety, and about what is to be done to get them back into their rooms. The faculty is pulling together to take care of student concerns, she said.

Rust College vice president Ishmell Edwards said the fire started on the second floor of the east wing of the dormitory which was extensively damaged due to a combination of fire, smoke and water used to extinguish the blaze. The west wing was not involved other than sustaining some smoke damage, he said.

Edwards said college officials went to work to get the women relocated to other dormitories until the dorm can be reopened. The west wing could be ready by as early as Tuesday evening, he said. Students who are from Holly Springs will stay at their homes until the dormitory reopens, he said.

Edwards said the cause of the fire was still under investigation early Tuesday.

Jeffries said 25 firefighters with the Holly Springs Fire Department and about five firefighters with each county fire department — Potts Camp, Red Banks, Mt. Pleasant and Waterford — turned out.

He said firefighters attacked the fire on the second story, making an entry at the stair well and taking control of the fire there first. The roof was already involved, he said.

Firefighters then worked the fire from the roof and afterward went back inside to mop up hot spots, Jeffries said. The fire was brought under control by 5:45 a.m., he said.

Edwards offered the college’s appreciation to the fire departments for their response.

“We want to express thanks to all fire departments who helped out,” he said.

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