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Update Monday 9:37 p.m.
After an investigation Monday morning, state fire marshals determined the fire in Sequoia Hall on Sunday afternoon was caused by a short in an electrical break that controlled the four rooms in the hall.
“The electrician reset the breaker, and all the electrical equipment in the four rooms came on at once,” Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier said in a press release. “The resulting power surge was too much for the infrastructure, and fire ignited in an electrical outlet.”
Cal Poly officials originally thought the fire was caused by a prohibited hotplate plugged into an electrical outlet in the room where the fire started, but this was not the case.
Freshmen living in the hall saw the fire early and used a fire extinguisher to put out most of the flames. Approximately 200 students were evacuated from the building while the University Police Department and San Luis Obispo City Fire surveyed the surrounding area and cleaned the damages.
Most students were able to return to the building approximately 90 minutes later, but four of the rooms were deemed unsafe for students to continue to live in. University Housing relocated the 10 students affected by the fire to “alternate accommodations” as the investigation and cleanup continues.
“Meanwhile, Cal Poly facilities staff members are working to proactively ensure that similar incidents do not take place in the campus’s residence halls,” Lazier said. “Crews are examining the electrical infrastructure of all of the red brick dorms along Grand Avenue to identify and correct similar weak spots. As well, crews have altered their repair procedure for such incidents, so that electricity is restored little by little to affected areas, avoiding similar overloads.”
A non-injury, electrical fire occurred in Sequoia residence hall Sunday afternoon, causing part of the building to be deemed unsafe to live in for the rest of the quarter, Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier said.
Cal Poly is currently working to find housing for the 10 students displaced by the fire.
An illegal hot plate is believed to have caused the electrical overload that led to the fire, Lazier said.
Luckily, freshmen living in nearby rooms were able to help put out the fire and prevent further damage.
“I could see the fire through the plug,” city and regional planning freshman Dan Losey said.
The fire occurred in room 305, and no one was in the room. Losey resides in room 303, the unit next to 305.
Mechanical engineering freshman Ben Lucke, who also lives in the hall, said the entire wall was on fire. He got a fire extinguisher by using a chair to shatter the glass, then tried to extinguish the fire with architectural engineering freshman Chris Chinn.
“Top third of room was smoke,” Chinn said.
It was architectural engineering freshman Nicolas Rademacher’s room that caught fire. He was doing math homework in the common room when the alarms went off. He went outside and saw the smoke coming from his room.
“I started to freak out a little bit,” he said. “I walked away for a bit, trying to cool down, and some friends came and helped me a bit. We went to Einstein’s to get away from it.”
Saturday night, Rademacher plugged a charger into the wall and “sparks flew,” he said, prompting him to call an electrician Sunday.
Four engines, one fire truck and two battalion chiefs responded to the fire, Battalion Chief Neal Berryman said. A mattress in the room was on fire, which the firefighters were able to put out, he said.
The fire started by the overloading of an electrical circuit, Berryman said. With three rooms sharing one circuit, there were too many things plugged into it.
Cal Poly is aware of the problem and working to fix it, Berryman said.
When Berryman got there, evacuations had taken place. The third floor was difficult to evacuate because of the smoke, he said.
“Luckily no one was hurt, and everyone got out,” he said. “And there was not a lot of damage.”
Students living in room 305 and its adjacent rooms, which share the same circuit, will not be able to return tonight, Berryman said.