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(WATCH) Burn, baby, burn: Fire crews set Central apartments ablaze for training

The Durham Fire Department is setting ablaze several Central Campus apartments for training exercises through a partnership with the University after Duke undergraduates stopped living in them last semester. Video and editing by Bre Bradham Narration by Jake Satisky

There’s smoke billowing out of the Central Campus apartment building. A fireman pulls a ladder from an engine truck, and others file into the smoky black hole of what once was a Duke undergraduate’s front door. 

Firefighters in full gear climbed the stairs of the building as others mounted a ladder onto the roof, sawing a hole through the top of it.  

After a few minutes, the rolling black clouds slow. A voice crackles through a speaker—the exercise is over.

Central is burning, but not because of rogue pizza boxes in dryers. The Durham Fire Department is using the shells of the old undergraduate apartments as sites for drills, since the buildings will be demolished anyway. 

“This is a unique opportunity for us to do several training burns,” Durham Fire Chief Willie Hall said in a news release

So Thursday and Friday last week, Durham fire trucks filled the lanes around a Central Campus apartment and watched it burn, as excavators climbed rubble heaps of other apartment buildings in the same block. 

The two days marked the first of several planned training exercises for the Durham Fire Department, in partnership with Duke. Other dates, according to the news release, are Nov. 14 to 15, 20 to 23, and 25 to 27. The schedule could change based on weather conditions.  

The approximately 50 buildings—which housed undergraduate students until last semester—that are now being burned and bullied by excavators to the ground. The land they sit—or sat—on was first acquired by Duke in 1964 from Erwin Mills, and it fills about 60 acres. 

Some of the cleared Central Campus area will become temporary parking lots, though the University has not announced long-term plans for the lan Outgoing Executive Vice President Tallman Trask envisioned a "gravitation of interesting corporations and institutes" coming to Central in an interview with The Chronicle.


As Central Campus closes to housing undergraduate students, a look back at the history of the 60 acres in the middle of campus and what might happen next.

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