A cloud of black smoke towered above the former Alpha Tau Omega fraternity on Wednesday morning after a fire broke out at around 8:15 a.m. in a construction trench, according to the MIT News Office.
According to MIT Facilities spokeswoman Ruth T. Davis, the fire started while shrink wrap was being installed around the steam and condensate lines outside ATO. “The contractors in the trench tried to put the fire out with the fire extinguisher that they had in the trench, but that wasn’t enough,” according to Davis.
The contractors then went into Burton-Conner to find another extinguisher, but found the blaze had already grown when they came back out, Davis said. Cambridge Police called the Cambridge Fire Department, which was able to contain the fire within 40 minutes.
Students that were evacuated from Phi Beta Epsilon, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Sigma Kappa, and Burton-Conner House watched as police roped off Amherst Alley in front of the blaze.
Emma E. Tolley ’11 was one of the students watching from the tennis courts after evacuating Burton-Conner.
“I heard the fire from my room. I smelled smoke and heard this weird crackling noise,” Tolley said.
Tom Stohlman ’76 happened to be on campus for a meeting when he heard news of the fire. As an alumnus and Building Safety Facilitator of Kappa Sigma, Stohlman was concerned and made his way to the scene on Dorm Row.
“I wanted to make sure everyone was out. This is a good example of why you need two ways out and why you should be doing fire drills,” Stohlman said.
Stohlman posted a dramatic video of the fire to YouTube, http://youtube.com/watch?v=KPyo-VrJeEc. Stohlman was an unsuccessful candidate for city council in Tuesday’s elections.
To DKE residents, the sound of a fire alarm was nothing new this week. According to Zach Rose ’10, a DKE brother, the fire alarm has sounded in the building several times in the past few days.
“I thought something was wrong with the system,” Rose said. The sirens of police cars stopping in front of his fraternity alerted Rose that this was not a drill.
Kevin Boehm ’11, another DKE brother, decided to wait out the fire alarm on the rooftop.
“I didn’t realize there was smoke until I was on the roof. We always have false alarms,” Boehm said. Boehm then evacuated the building with the rest of his fraternity.
Construction on the pipelines was almost complete, and the underground chamber was to be backfilled next week.
“Approximately sixty linear feet of new steam piping and trench will need to be replaced. New piping is now on order and could take several weeks to arrive,” according to Davis. Until then, the damaged areas of the trench will be repaired and shored up. None of the buildings themselves were damaged.
The event is still under investigation by the Cambridge Fire Department, according to Lieutenant David J. Pierce of the Cambridge Fire Department.