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Police Investigate Burton Fire Scare

By Ramy A. Arnaout
News Editor

Campus Police are investigating a series of four apparent arson attempts set in Burton-Conner House suite kitchens, according to Captain John E. Driscoll.

The most serious attempt, one of two discovered in different suites shortly after 6 a.m. last Wednesday, led to a small fire in suite 424 and prompted an emergency dormitory-wide evacuation.

"I was woken up at a little past 6 a.m. by a smoke alarm outside my door," said S. Roopom Banerjee '97, who lives in the suite. "I smelled smoke. When I got outside the door, I saw a blazing newspaper on the stove. The flames were 1.5 or 2 feet high," he said. "I was totally shocked.

"I grabbed a pitcher full of water and doused one side of the newspaper," Banerjee said. "The stove sizzled when I threw water on it - that's how I knew it was on."

The newspaper, a copy of the Wall Street Journal, appeared to have been taken from the suite's nearby recycling bin, Banerjee said.

Wednesday morning's other attempt, which took place in suite 213 shortly after the first one, was under control by the time residents had returned from the evacuation, said Cynthia H. Liu '95, a suite resident. "We walked right past the stove when the alarm went off," Liu said. "You could smell something burning but you couldn't tell where it was coming from."

The planning of all the attempts was similar, said Burton-Conner President Steven A. Luperchio '95. At each site, newspaper or other flammable material had been spread over a lit electric burner, producing smoke, Luperchio said.

"This is an extremely serious matter," Driscoll said. "The ramifications of it will be severe criminal prosecution if this turns out to be intentional arson. I hope that somebody doesn't think this is funny."

Thursday incident follows

Another attempt to set a fire was discovered in Burton suite 333 early Thursday morning.

Luis A. Uribarri '95, a resident of the suite, was going to the Burton front desk when he noticed smoke in the hallway. "I was on my way to the elevator when I saw a haze in the hallway," Uribarri said. "As I walked down the hall, it got thicker; by the time I got to the 333 suite I couldn't see my hand in front of my face."

At first, "I didn't know where the fire was coming from," Uribarri said. "There were some oven mitts and towels [on the stove], and the burner was turned all the way up, and there was a lot of smoke but no fire," he said. "I took the whole chunk and threw it out the window."

A Burton-Conner executive committee meeting was called Thursday night to discuss the events of the previous two mornings, Luperchio said.

"We had reps from the Safety Office, house security, and Campus Police to discuss what was known," Luperchio said. Floor chairs then discussed the issue with the residents of each floor, he said.

A similar incident was reported in a fourth suite on Friday afternoon, Driscoll said. No attempts have been reported since.

Campus Police and dormitory leaders have responded to the attempts with security improvements at the dormitory.

"We're working with the housing dorm patrols," Driscoll said. "They're being extra vigilant; they'll be making rounds more often."

Campus Police has also requested that residents lock doors that open into hallways and that residents immediately report any suspicious persons or actions, Driscoll said. Floor chairs have sent these suggestions to residents via electronic mail.

"Someone's totally sick or something," Uribarri said. "The suite doors [must] be locked now. People were totally against that. We were really upset. We couldn't figure out why people were doing this."

"I don't see any other concern besides locking the doors and [turning] around when you hear someone walking behind you, to make sure it's someone from the dorm," Salomon G. Davila Jr. '97 said.

"People are a little more concerned, but not terrified," Davila said.