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Computer sparks fire in Siegfried

Marcela Berrios | Monday, January 29, 2007

Siegfried Hall was evacuated early Saturday morning when sophomore Dan Zimmerman’s computer went up in flames, causing minor damage but leaving residents stranded outside for almost an hour.

Zimmerman was not in the room when his computer’s battery overheated and exploded, creating two-and-a-half to three-foot-high flames, Siegfried assistant rector Peter Lively said.

A handful of Zimmerman’s neighbors – including sophomores Tomas Castillo, Mike Hawking and Robbie Bernardin – smelled the smoke, immediately unplugged the computer and opened the windows to vent the room.

When the laptop ignited, they notified resident assistant Anh Nguyen and Lively, who grabbed a fire extinguisher and smothered the flames before the Notre Dame Fire Department and Notre Dame Security/Police (NDSP) arrived. Resident assistant Robert Dugas was also on duty at the time.

Lively said Friday’s fire was the most potentially destructive fire he has seen in his seven years at Notre Dame and Siegfried Hall.

Residents became aware of the flames at approximately 1:10 a.m., and NDSP and the firefighters arrived shortly after.

Those in the building were escorted outside for approximately 10 minutes before they were allowed to enter the first floor and remain there until the firefighters were done examining the third floor, where the fire erupted.

“Every person on duty that night was well trained and responded quickly to the call,” NDFD Captain David Austin said.

NDSP Officer Pat Holdeman handled the scene Friday and filed the official NDSP report, but he was not available for comment Sunday.

Austin said NDSP officers supervised the evacuation while firefighters inspected Zimmerman’s room. He also praised the residents’ actions to contain the threat.

Zimmerman said he had not done anything to contribute to the fire.

“Before I get blamed for the incident, let me say the computer was not overheating on the futon or next to a pile of papers,” Zimmerman said.

He said the year-old computer had not given him any trouble before.

“You can take precautions to avoid these things but sometimes you just can’t foresee them,” Austin said. “I’m glad the residents reacted quickly and called us.”

Zimmerman’s desk, walls and carpet were charred by the flames, but besides the smell of molten plastic – which drove him away from his room this weekend – the fire did not cause further damage.

Zimmerman was waiting for both a new desk and a new computer Sunday night, but with a disintegrated hard drive and an illegible serial number, he said obtaining a replacement from Hewlett-Packard might take some time.

He also said he didn’t believe his battery was among the batteries recently recalled by several computer manufacturers.