A fire in the Giles kitchen forced students to evacuate the dorm early Sunday morning.
After unknown individuals placed a fire extinguisher in a kitchen oven that was on, the fire alarm was activated, and students evacuated the building. The Duke University Police Department, the Durham Fire Department and various Housing, Dining and Residence Life employees responded to the incident, wrote Lisa Beth Bergene, associate dean for East Campus, in an email. This is not the first incident of vandalism on East Campus—in recent weeks, the benches outside Giles residence hall and Wilson residence hall have also been significantly damaged.
HDRL does not yet know who was responsible for the fire, she wrote, adding that HDRL is working with DUPD and the Office of Student Conduct to investigate the incident.
Chief of Police John Dailey wrote in an email Monday that DUPD has investigators committed to looking into this fire as well as a recent fire in Randolph residence hall. He also encouraged anyone with information about either incident to contact DUPD, noting that information can be reported anonymously through their website.
“I cannot express how disappointed I am in the people responsible,” Bergene wrote. “I question whether those responsible deserve to be at Duke.”
Bergene explained that part of the extinguisher melted in the oven—triggering the fire alarm—and that a second extinguisher was also sprayed in the kitchen.
Meredyth Albright, a freshman resident in Giles, said that she and a friend were the first to notice the smoke. They attempted to use another extinguisher to put out the fire, which was when they noticed that there was a fire extinguisher already in the oven.
“My friend and I walked down the hall and we saw...smoke pouring out of the oven,” she recounted. “We ran over to a fire extinguisher...I opened the stove and blasted the fire extinguisher into the stove, but it was weird because there was another fire extinguisher in the stove.”
Although no one was injured in the incident, there was significant potential for harm to students.
“Thankfully, no one was harmed as the fire alarms were triggered before the canister could explode,” wrote Matthew Bailey, residence coordinator for neighborhood two, in an email to Giles and Wilson residents Sunday afternoon.
Bailey also wrote that anyone found responsible could face criminal penalties, disciplinary sanctions and would likely have their housing license canceled.
He also noted that this fire and the destruction of the Giles and Wilson benches represent an escalation of occasional pranks occurring throughout the semester. As a result, both Giles and Wilson will be put on house-only card access for at least the rest of the semester.
Albright mentioned that a feud between Wilson and Giles might have played a role in the incident.
“If it was an act of malice, obviously fingers are pointed at Wilson because they have done such idiotic things to Giles,” she said. “But I do not know if it was an act of malice, or if it was an act of stupid kids doing stupid things. Of course I hope it was the second one, but something needs to be done.”
Albright noted that the destruction of benches has been one of the main components in the feud between the two dorms.
In his email, Bailey wrote that all East Campus benches will be removed if any more benches are damaged or tipped.
Albright said the fire alarms in the dorm did not awaken everyone.
“The fire alarms went off, but my roommate did not even know...until this morning when I told her,” Albright said. “She was asleep in the dorm. You can hear [the alarm] in your room, but it does not wake you up.”
Bergene wrote that the fire alarm system is being updated to increase its audibility and also noted that resident assistants will be going door-to-door to talk to residents in some of the East Campus buildings.
“I think many of the students living in Giles have had enough and are beginning to speak out against peers,” she wrote. “It’s also important to remember that we are not certain if these actions were caused by people living in Giles or by people from other buildings.”
Although many of the details of the incident are still unknown, Bergene expressed her disappointment at the behavior and the waste of resources that it caused.
“Given all that we are witnessing in the world right now in Paris, Beirut and on our own campus, the immaturity and complete disregard for the safety of others is hard to fathom,” she said.
This story was updated Monday evening to include Dailey's comment and the link to the story about Randolph.