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Fire Causes Water Damage

Emergency Sprinklers Stop Fire, Flood Parts of Buildings 5, 7

By Jordan Rubin


Water damage caused by the sprinkler system, which was set off by an accidental fire on the fourth floor of Building 7 near the Dome Cafe, forced the Institute to close parts of buildings 7 and 5.

The Cambridge Fire Department received a call at 7:03 on Sunday evening. According to Deputy Fire Chief Edward Mahoney, the Fire Department response was in line with procedures for a “box call” with a confirmed fire.

When the Fire Department arrived, the fire had already been extinguished by the sprinkler system. “The sprinklers did their job,” explained one of the firefighters.

Equipped with air tanks, members of the fire department entered the building and ascended the stairs to the fourth floor. After verifying that the fire was out, they opened windows to disperse the smoke.

Photography bulb ignites project

The fire started as students in Special Problems in Architectural Design (4.196) photographed projects for their class. “I am told that this fire resulted from high intensity photographic lighting being placed too close to a student project, Facilities Manager for the School of Architecture and Planning James R. Harrington wrote in an e-mail to members of the departments of Architecture (Course IV) and Urban Studies and Planning (Course XI).

The assignment called for students to “construct a wall that engaged the body,” said Assistant Professor J. Meejin Yoon, instructor for the class. He described the project that caught fire as “curtain-like, made of soft fabric.”

Students working in architecture studios adjacent to Lobby 7 evacuated the building when the alarm sounded. Nearby students did not know the cause of the fire; some did not rule out the idea of a terrorist attack. David B. McLean G said, “We really didn’t know what it was, we just saw smoke. Everyone just cleared out.”

Water damage exceeds fire damage

Reports of the incident stated that one overhead sprinkler went off and was able to quench the fire in a short amount of time. However, the sprinkler continued to spray water.

Water fell from the overhang above the entrance at 77 Massachusetts Avenue onto the steps leading into the lobby of Building 7.

Due to the feeding system used by the Institute, shutting off the flow of water to the sprinklers is difficult. At least two water mains feed each sprinkler. Mahoney said that multiple water feeds makes it difficult to tamper with the sprinkler system.

After the sprinklers were turned off, up to two inches of water remained in some labs. According to Ruth T. Davis, Manager of Communications for the Department of Facilities, the Institute is still trying to assess the damages.

“The department of facilities custodians were working through the night to ready the offices and labs,” Davis said.

“There was migration of water into both 5-414 proper and the surrounding corridors,” Harrington wrote. The damage in 5-414, an architecture studio, was minimal. Hans-Michael Foeldeak, a graduate student in that studio, said that most students’ work was not on the floor.

Water fell down to the basement below the small dome. Professor James D. Bruce ScD ’64, Vice President for Information Systems, said, “Water cascaded down the Building 5 telephone and network shaft through the closets and caused extensive damage.” The full extent of the damage for IS is not known.

Water flows into third floor lab

The lab that incurred the highest level of water damage is likely the Vortical Flow Research Lab in room 5-303. George V. Papaioannou G , a research assistant in the lab, said that “water came crashing down on a monitor. Some books and tapes were damaged as well.”

A significant volume of water fell on some of the lab’s computers as well, but, “somehow, miraculously, the computers survived,” Papaioannou said. The full extent of the damage in the VFRL has not been determined.

The amount of water in buildings 7 and 5 posed a potential electrical danger. Campus police officers turned students away from the building, explaining that electrical problems could cause people to get hurt.