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CPs Probe Arson at Burton-Conner


Adriane Chapman--The Tech
Burton-Conner House.

By Ramy A. Arnaout
News Editor

The Campus Police and the Cambridge fire department are investigating what appeared to be a case of attempted arson in a Burton-Conner House suite kitchen early Wednesday morning, said Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin.

Campus Police arrived at the dormitory around 6:12 a.m., after a suite 222 resident reported finding paper towels and a roll of toilet paper on the kitchen stove next to a lit burner, Glavin said.

When the suite had been checked by a night watchman at about 5 a.m., the stove had been off and clear, said Kenneth Donaghey, Burton-Conner house manager.

While no material actually caught fire, "it would go up pretty fast if it ignited," Glavin said. "The [burner] was on full blast."

The incident followed a possible arson attempt the previous Sunday at MacGregor House, where a roll of toilet paper was set on fire in the middle of a first-floor bathroom, prompting a dormitory-wide evacuation ["Fire in MacGregor Causes Evacuation," Dec. 6].

Also, Burton-Conner residents have been in a state of elevated awareness since early October, when Burton-Conner was the site of four attempted fires - all of which involved setting newspaper, paper towels, and other flammable material on top of lit kitchen stove burners ["Police Investigate Burton Fire Scare," Oct. 18].

Glavin said that it is still too early to tell if the events are related. "These things are not commonplace. It can take some time to solve," she said.

Glavin did offer a warning. "I'll be completely frank about this: If we find out there's someone involved in this, we'll prosecute them," Glavin said. "When you talk about arson, that's a serious situation."

However, it is still undecided whether or not the incident was actually attempted arson. "We don't know if it was just negligence yet or if it was a purposeful act," said Niraj Gupta '96, Burton-Conner president. "We didn't call an emergency meeting [because] the burner that was on wasn't affecting the papers, which were on the other side of the stove."

Still, the fact that the fire involved toilet paper, an item not often found in kitchens, raises suspicions that the incident may have been something other than simple negligence, Donaghey said.

"We're looking into where the toilet paper was before the incident," with the hope of finding out if it had been deliberately brought over or just carelessly pushed aside from a nearby counter, Donaghey said.

Residents concerned, not afraid

In general, residents expressed concern over the event, though they are not overly afraid.

"It's kind of sad this is going on at MIT," said Nathan R. Schnidman '95. "I have no idea why it's happening. The way the fires have been scattered about it doesn't look like its against anyone personally.

If "someone is trying to be a vandal, it also doesn't make much sense because it's not being done in a way that's going to cause too much harm," Schnidman said. "Most of the attempts seem to be easily preventable. No one's given a reason why it might be happening."

"They want us to lock our suite doors, which we don't do normally," said Amy J. Varney '96, another Burton-Conner resident. "I don't really think of locking my suite door."

Like many residents, Varney is at a loss to find a motive for the incident. "I think there's definitely something going on," Varney said. "It's like they're trying to scare someone, but not trying to bring the building down. It's like someone's trying to get attention."

In response to this most recent incident, residents working the front desk have been asked to pay special attention to people coming into the dormitory, Gupta said.

"We've asked students to lock their suites at night, and although some students complain" that locking suite doors impinges on their ability to socialize, "we do find a lot more suites locked at night," Donaghey said.