A team of workers from AFTERDISASTER emergency service are working to correct smoke an water damage in Brown residence hall.
Gautam Hathi / The Chronicle
A team of workers from AFTERDISASTER emergency service are working to correct smoke an water damage in Brown residence hall.
Residents of Brown’s third floor displaced by last night’s fire will not be able to return to their rooms until early next week.

Damage from the fire, which broke out in Room 302 at approximately 7:30 pm. last night, forced 40 students on the third floor to spend the night in empty rooms across campus. Dean for Residential Life Joe Gonzalez explained to Brown residents in a meeting today that the third floor of Brown will require repairs and extensive cleanup before students can return, even though the fire only caused permanent damage to the room in which it originated. More extensive repairs to the building will be conducted over Spring Break.

In addition, some second floor residents living directly below the fire will have to temporarily relocate. Gonzalez said that the cause of the fire was still being investigated.

“We very much appreciate your positive spirits and your understanding of the implications of this situations,” Gonzalez told Brown residents Friday afternoon. “It’s made our efforts to respond to it much easier, having you be very positive and supportive.”

Gonzalez updated residents on the status of the cleanup and repair efforts. He said he was uncertain when students would be able to return to their rooms, but that the floor would likely be ready early next week.

Residents of Brown's third floor have been relocated to empty rooms around campus.
Gautam Hathi / The Chronicle

“The AFTERDISASTER team is doing a wonderful job up there and they’re trying to make sure that the air is cleared of all the smoke as much as possible, cleaning all the hard surfaces, removing the ceiling tile and putting in new ceiling tiles,” Gonzalez said. “They’re cleaning everything they possibly can to make sure that the floor is a great place for you to return to.”

Displaced students are being given rooms in other dorms on East Campus as well as in buildings on West Campus, including the R. David Thomas Executive Conference Center near the Fuqua School of Business. Gonzalez emphasized that every displaced student should have a room to sleep in.

The East Campus Housing, Dining and Residence Life office will remain open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday to assist Brown residents as needed, Associate Dean for East Campus LB Bergene wrote in an email to Brown residents this morning.

“Fortunately, the fire really was contained in one room, which, given the severity of the fire, is incredibly fortunate,” Gonzalez said.

Smoke damage, however, affected the entire third floor and the extent of damage from the water used to put out the fire is still being investigated. The room where the fire originated will remain unusable through the end of the year, Gonzalez said.

“Right now the plan is during Spring Break to try and get some carpet replaced in the hallway and repaint,” Gonzalez explained.

Gonzalez said third floor residents who had smoke in their rooms will have their clothes cleaned by the University to remove smoke residue and returned over the weekend. Students were allowed to enter their rooms and retrieve property after the fire. This morning, third floor residents going up to their rooms were seen wearing hard hats and respiration masks.

The University is paying to have students' clothing cleaned to remove smoke residue from the fire.
Gautam Hathi / The Chronicle

Steam to all of Brown and electrical power to the section of the building affected by the fire were cut off last night, Gonzalez said. He said that it is not known whether either of those systems played a role in the fire, but until the cause of the fire is determined and damage to the electrical and steam systems is assessed, they will remain shut off to ensure safety.

“It’s actually highly unlikely that the steam was connected to the fire, but better safe than sorry," Gonzalez said.

The fire marshal still has not determined an official cause of the fire, and Gonzalez said the explanations which have been circulating are nothing more than speculation. A Duke Today article posted last night stated that one theory is that the fire was caused by a backpack lying against a radiator and igniting.

“We’re still investigating the cause of the fire. I know there’s some speculation going around, and maybe the speculation proves to be true. We don’t know at this point, but what I want to emphasize is that right now officially we don’t know what caused the fire,” Gonzalez said. “We do believe we’re going to know by Monday what the cause of the fire was."

Damage to rooms and property appeared to be fairly limited beyond the room which contained the fire, although the contents of that room were destroyed.

“Our hope is that damage is going to be very minimal in terms of property of students,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez pointed out that students whose property was damaged would not be reimbursed unless negligence on the University's part is found.

“The University’s insurance is really just for the University’s property, like the building,” Gonzalez said. “University insurance does not cover personal property.”

Gonzalez gave Brown residents at the meeting a copy of the relevant section of the Housing License and Terms, which states, “The University is not liable for damage or loss of personal property kept in the resident’s assigned space or in other areas of University housing. Because the University does not provide property insurance, residents are encouraged to secure their own personal property insurance.”

Displaced students were concerned about the conditions of their rooms and also relieved the damage was not more extensive.

"I’m told that there isn’t anything more than just some smoke damage, which is good," said freshman Max Kramer, a third-floor resident in Brown. "I was expecting to have to get a new laptop or something, so I’m very satisfied with the way things are turning out. I can’t stay here for the night, but they found a room on East for me so I think that’s okay.”