The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 45.0°F | Overcast

Fire at Beta Theta Pi Destroys Top Floor, Frat Moves to Annex

By Ray C. He


A fire at Beta Theta Pi caused more than $100,000 in damages to one of the fraternity’s two houses late Friday night, according to the Boston Fire Department.

No one was hurt in the fire, which was contained on the fourth floor of the building, said fire department spokesman David Walsh.

The building, located at 119 Bay State Road, was empty because pipes had burst the night before, disabling the sprinkler and heating systems, said Herman Marshall ’78, BTP’s alumni board president.

“There were no brothers in the house at the time,” he said. “They had moved to the annex because we didn’t have heat in the main house because the pipes had been freezing,” he said.

Cause of fire unknown

The cause of the fire in the empty BTP house is unknown. “Whether it was a space heater or not, we’re not sure. That’s still under investigation,” said David N. Rogers, the director of fraternities, sororities and independent living groups.

“The cause of the fire is undetermined at the time,” Walsh said. The fire is being investigated by the Boston Fire Department’s Fire Investigation Unit.

The fraternity’s insurance company has contracted for an investigation as well, Marshall said.

Frozen pipes disabled sprinklers

Prior to the fire, around 2 a.m. on Friday, the Boston Fire Department responded to an alarm at BTP, according to the MIT police log. The alarm was apparently caused by a burst pipe.

“A pipe had burst because [of] the bitter cold. I think it leaked a little water that steamed and set the fire alarm off,” said Daniel A. Bercovici ’04, the president of BTP.

The pipes also contributed to the damage done to the house. “There were several frozen pipes in the sprinkler system,” Marshall said. “The sprinkler system, the water, was disabled.” The smoke alarms, however, were still operational, he said.

Damage keeps members in annex

Displaced members of BTP will continue to live in their annex, across the street at 120 Bay State Road, because damage to the fourth floor must be repaired before anyone can move back into the house, Bercovici said.

“We have sufficient room and the lodging licenses for them to live in the annex,” Marshall said.

Marshall expects the house to be closed for “the foreseeable future.” “We don’t know if that’s a month or five months,” he said. “We’re certainly expecting that the house will be available for the fall term so undergraduates can move into the house, including the pledges who will be initiated by then.”

“There’s substantial damage to the fourth floor but it seems to be mostly limited to the rear,” Marshall said. The two rooms that were affected by the fire “have been completely totaled and have to be rebuilt,” he said. Those rooms’ residents’ “personal belongings are basically a total loss.”

Firefighters also removed the plaster walls and ceiling of the rooms in order to prevent the fire from spreading, Marshall said. “The framing, the ceiling rafters are still there.”

Fires are not common at MIT fraternities, although there was a small space-heater fire at Theta Xi last month. “Never in my nine years of working fraternities had there been fires,” said Rogers. “And there have been two in the last month.”