Lab supplies combust, igniting in an empty room

Posted on January 27, 2014 in News
By Sidney Dritz

Randy Hazelton | The Free Press
Randy Hazelton | The Free Press

Even with the multitude students coming in and out of the Science building during the school week, the most explosive thing to happen in the building last Friday took place in an empty classroom.

A little after 1:00 on Friday, in the bottom corner of a shelving unit in the unused combination lab and classroom 303, something caught on fire. By Saturday, the Portland Fire Department had determined the cause of the fire. “There was container with some potting soil,” said USM Executive Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell, “And mixed in with it was some fertilizer, and it was covered, and for whatever reason, it resulted in some spontaneous combustion and caught fire.”

Caswell said it was so far unknown what the covered soil and fertilizer was being used for. “I guess we’ll find out Monday,” Caswell said.

Another thing which is expected to be clearer Monday is what the cost of the cleanup from the water damage will be. The sprinkler system was triggered by the smoke before any significant fire damage could be done, but the sprinklers ran for ten minutes, soaking from the third floor and overflowing down to the basement.

According to an email sent by Executive Director of Facilities Management Robert Bertram Friday at 2:50 p.m., informing faculty and staff that the fire had happened but was over, cleanup had already begun, less than two hours after the alarm sounded, and fans were in place to dry out the most significant water damage.

There were no classes in progress in that area of the building at the time of the fire, and according to Executive Director of Student Life Joy Pufhal, laboratory classes taking place shortly afterwards were relocated.

Friday evening, staff from the IT department checked the affected rooms for technological damage. “It doesn’t appear that there will be any permanent damage to the floor,” Caswell said. The ceiling tiles, on the other hand, will need to be replaced.

Caswell expects an estimate on costs and how long repairs will take by the end of the day Monday, as well as the reason for the sealed container of soil and fertilizer.