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Chem Laboratory Catches Fire; Hall Floods, Buildings Evacuated

By Stacey E. Blau
News Editor

A fire in a chemistry lab in Building 2 caused the sealing off and evacuation of Buildings 2, 4, 6, and 8 late Sunday night, said Physical Plant Assistant for Administrative Services Larry Donaghey.

At about 11:35 p.m. on Sunday a fire began in a chemistry laboratory in room 2-007, said Chief of Campus Police Anne P. Glavin.

"Some dichlorine monoxide apparently warmed up to room temperature and reacted with isopropyl alcohol and melted dry ice and produced a fireball," said James A. Janni G, a Department of Chemistry graduate student who works in the Building 2 lab, which is headed by Professor of Chemistry Jeffrey I. Steinfeld.

The fireball apparently went up into the duct work and the ventilation system caught on fire, Janni said. The hood, the device used to funnel potentially harmful fumes out of a room, also caught fire, Donaghey said.

Lab sustains damage

The basement area filled with smoke and vapors, and Buildings 2, 4, 6, and 8 had to be evacuated and sealed off, Donaghey said.

Smoke penetrated "throughout the entire main complex, all floors," Glavin said.

Sprinklers in the lab extinguished the fire "in just a matter of a few minutes," Donaghey said, but the water sprayed by the sprinklers in 2-007 and surrounding laboratories caused the corridor to flood. About 1,750 gallons of water had to be removed from the area, he said.

Cambridge Fire Department responded with several vehicles, but arrived after the fire had been extinguished, Glavin said.

Three Physical Plant workers "had to be taken home" because they were overcome by smoke, Donaghey said.

The smoke generated from the reaction damaged the plastic duct work in the lab and caused the fixtures and paint in the lab to blister, Donaghey said.

The damage to the lab "is pretty bad," Janni said. In addition to the smoke and water damage, the fire left behind a noxious smell, and the hood was destroyed, he said.

Janni said that only one person in the lab performed research in 2-007 but that everyone in the lab would have to relocate for the time being.