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Although Sunday’s fire caused the evacuation of 200 students and the displacement of 10, Associate Director of Housing Carole Schaffer said far fewer are affected from the aftermath: Only the three students living in the dorm room that caught on fire will have to live elsewhere for the rest of the quarter. The seven students from the surrounding rooms will be able to move back in shortly.
“Power and lights were restored to their rooms last night, and any final electrical repair will be done by Monday,” Schaffer said. “So those other seven students weren’t really as impacted as initially thought, and we didn’t have to displace as many students as we’d thought either.”
A short in an electrical break that controlled four rooms in the hall caused a fire on the residence hall’s third floor Sunday, an investigation found Monday.
Architecture freshman Nicolas Rademacher, architectural engineering freshman Evan McFarland and landscape architecture freshman Kevin Choi, the three students living in the Sequoia room that caught fire, have selected vacant spaces in the residence halls.
Rademacher is staying in Sequoia. One of the rooms had an empty spot, and he already knew the students living there, which “helped remove some of the anxiety from moving in with someone new,” he said.
Rademacher said he is grateful for how helpful everyone in Sequoia has been.
“The night of the fire, people let me borrow blankets and pillows,” he said. “I got a lot of, ‘Do you need anything?’”
The students will go through a claims process coordinated by Risk Management so they can be compensated for damaged possessions.
“You have to fill out paperwork, and submit proof of the damaged items,” Schaffer said.
Rademacher said he “was pretty lucky” in terms of what he lost. Right now, he knows that his bed, mattress, pillows and a pair of jeans have been damaged, but he isn’t sure what the dollar total for those will be.
According to Zach Nichols, the Cal Fire investigator who is handling the case, the damage to the room was minimal.
“Most of it was smoke damage,” he said. “The students’ things weren’t really harmed — just the mattress that caught on fire.”
Schaffer believes fire drills helped the evacuation go smoothly. She said they were one of the first things University Housing scheduled after classes started.
David Ragsdale, director of environmental health and safety at Cal Poly, agreed.
“We used to do one fire drill a year, and now we do one every quarter,” Ragsdale said.
But quarterly drills are not the only policy change to come. Ragsdale said that while this is the first electrical problem Cal Poly has experienced that led to a fire, there’s a possibility it won’t be the last.
“We are going to look very carefully at this, especially since we’ve gone to more triples this year,” he said. “Some of our older halls were designed when we didn’t have nearly the electrical load. When Sequoia was designed, what did people come with? An electric radio, an alarm clock and a reading light. Well, now we’ve all got refrigerators, computers, printers, TVs, Xboxes, cell phone chargers, you know — it adds up.”
Ragsdale said Cal Poly’s administrators need to see if there is a different way to manage and control the electrical loads. It may even be necessary to have an engineer adjust the circuit wiring, he said.
“An electrical engineer might be able to come up with a fairly simple correction, or it might be as extensive as rewiring the whole building,” Ragsdale said.