Early Morning morning—one day after a fire extinguisher was placed in an oven in Giles—a dryer in a Randolph laundry room caught fire, setting off the sprinkler system and forcing students to evacuate the dorm.
The fire caused significant water and fire damage to Randolph residence hall, which is being cleaned up by the private maintenance company AfterDisaster, wrote Kevin Erixson, residence coordinator for neighborhood four, in an email. The Duke University Police Department is investigating the fire as an arson, he noted. Delaney Dryfoos, a freshman resident in Randolph, said she and a few friends were the first to discover the scorched and melted dryer in the laundry room about a half-hour before the fire started.
“I noticed that it smelled like melting plastic,” Dryfoos said. “We went over and looked at the dryers and noticed that one of them was completely melted, and it smelled horrible—and then there was this random pizza box that was in the dryer. It looked as though the pizza box had not even been melted, but the plastic of the dryer was melting off.”
Although the dryer was off and there was no fire at the time, Dryfoos and her friends notified a resident assistant about the issue. She also noted that this was the second time a Randolph dryer had caught fire this year.
“This is the second time that something was happening to the same dryer, so I thought it was ridiculous that people were stupid enough to be doing this and putting people in harm’s way,” she recounted.
Nearly 30 minutes after Dryfoos found the dryer, the fire alarm was activated, causing students to evacuate the dorm.
Lisa Beth Bergene, associate dean for East Campus, wrote in an email that it is unclear exactly what caused the fire. Once the fire started, the fire alarm and sprinkler system were activated, and the Durham Fire Department, HDRL and DUPD responded thereafter, Bergene wrote.
The exact timing of the fire is also under investigation. Dryfoos said that when a DUPD officer interviewed her Monday morning, she was told that the dryer had caught on fire sometime between when she found it and when the fire alarm was activated.
During the evacuation, there were concerns that not all of the students had complied with the fire alarm and left the building.
According to freshman Randolph resident Ray Pryor, the fire department went through the dorm to make sure that all residents had left, but had to break open his door because he had locked it before leaving.
“The fire department was concerned that not everyone was out...but they could not get into my room to make sure that I was out,” he said. “They basically destroyed the handle on the locked part of the door to get inside.”
Pryor also noted that some of the concern over the evacuation might have been because Randolph has had multiple false alarms over the course of the semester, and some residents now ignore the alarms.
In his email to Randolph residents, Erixson asked that they take all fire alarms seriously and immediately evacuate the building when alarms are activated.
Both the fire and the sprinkler system caused substantial damage to the dorm.
“The laundry room will be offline for a while,” Bergene wrote. “Machines need to be repaired/replaced and the walls also need to be cleaned and painted. The sprinklers were set off, so there is also water to contend with.”
According to Erixson’s email, some parts of the dorm will be off-limits until the damage is repaired.
Pryor noted that he was told it will be approximately three days until the door of his room is repaired, and that he has moved to Bell Tower residence hall for the next few days.
John Dailey, chief of police for DUPD, wrote in an email that investigators are looking into causes of the fire. Dailey encouraged anyone with information about the fire in Randolph or the incident in Giles early Sunday morning to contact the police department or HDRL.
Bergene wrote that HDRL is investigating as well, adding that RAs have been asked to talk about what happened with their residents.
She also expressed her disappointment regarding the fires in both Randolph and Giles.
“[It is] reckless and with complete disregard for the safety of the other people,” she wrote.