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DU error may have caused fire

By Josh Hartmann

A mistake by Delta Upsilon's current pledge class may have

led to the Nov. 12 fire that destroyed an MIT Outing Club cabin, though no official determination of the fire's cause has been made.

"When the DU pledge class was up there the night before, they didn't know how to turn on the gas heater," said Harold C. Payson, manager of the cabin. "They didn't know they had one. They found what they thought was a wood-burning furnace and threw on some logs."

The freshmen actually lit the container for a composting toilet -- fiberglass filled with woodchips, sawdust and bacteria to allow decomposition, Payson said.

"The directions [at the cabin] said the furnace was in the basement, and it is in the basement ceiling," said DU President Erik D. Larson '92, who was not at the cabin. The freshmen later realized their mistake and lit the real furnace, then put out the fire in the toilet and stirred the coals.

While eating lunch the next day, one member of the group smelled burning fiberglass. They opened up the toilet and saw glowing coals, Payson said. They then poured 20 gallons of water over the coals to extinguish them. Larson said some pledges put their hands into the coals and were convinced that the fire was out. The cabin burned down the next morning.

Payson added that the fire investigator told him informally there was no evidence to contradict what Larson had reported, and that the fire was not considered suspicious. The investigator, Jim Wells, could not be reached by telephone yesterday.

"We are still pursuing getting payment from our insurance company and waiting for the official report from the fire marshal," Payson said. The insurance company may seek reimbursement from DU at the completion of its investigation, he added.

Payson said that since members of the Outing Club had built the Bartlett, NH cabin themselves over 10 years ago, there was no formal value on it. He added that a professional contractor would be sent to the site to evaluate the worth of the three-story, 1800-square-foot building. He also said the club would rebuild the cabin.

Outing Club President David A. Maltz '93 has said that the materials used to build the original cabin cost $20,000.