Arsonists plague Burton-Conner and MacGregorBy A. Arif Husain
A string of suspicious fire attempts were reported to the Campus Police in the fall, starting with several incidents in Burton-Conner House in October.
No evidence has been found to connect the various incidents, and investigators are still searching for a motive, according to Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin.
Because the fires were set so close to each other, all of the incidents are under the active investigation of the Campus Police in conjunction with the Cambridge Fire Department," Glavin said.
"The fact that we've had so many [fires] is cause for concern and is the reason why we're investigating, Glavin said. "These are very serious situations, and we're viewing them with a high degree of seriousness."
The arson attempts began with a series of fires at Burton-Conner. The first incident, which was the most serious, was discovered early on Oct. 12. It led to a small fire in suite 424 and prompted a 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 to 2 feet high," he said.
Banerjee doused the fire with a pitcher of water.
The morning's other reported 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.
A third arson attempt was discovered in suite 333 early the next morning. Luis A. Uribarri '95, a resident of the suite, first noticed smoke in the hallway.
"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 similar incident was reported in a fourth suite the following afternoon.
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, he said.
More West campus fires
On Dec. 4, the discovery of smoke by a Physical Plant employee initiated a complete evacuation of MacGregor House.
After half an hour of searching, fire fighters located a toilet paper roll that had been set on fire on the floor of the J-entry first floor restroom. The fire had gone out by the time firefighters arrived.
"Anytime there is smoke or fire in a building it's not a trivial matter," said MacGregor Housemaster Steven J. Lippard PhD '65. "It needs to be addressed, and we will do that." Lippard called an emergency meeting for the 30 to 40 J-entry residents later that night to discuss the incident.
A fifth Burton-Conner incident occurred early Dec. 7. The Campus Police arrived after a resident of suite 222 reported finding paper towels and a roll of toilet paper on the kitchen stove next to a lit burner, Campus Police Chief Anne P. Glavin said.
While no material actually caught fire, "it would go up pretty fast if it ignited," Glavin said. "The [burner] was on full blast."
"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 it's against anyone personally."
Attention shifted back to MacGregor on Dec. 14 when the suite door in J21 was discovered in flames, according to Graduate Resident Tutor Russell G. Tessier G. The door had been decorated with wrapping paper and a bow for the holiday season.
The Campus Police also found that smoke detectors on the second and third floor of the entry had been disabled, Tessier said.
At 2:40 a.m. the following morning, the holiday tree that stood in front of the Student Center was found on fire by a Campus Police officer on patrol. The Cambridge Fire Department was called to extinguish the fire, Glavin said.