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SMC campus fire deemed minor

Jillian Barwick | Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The investigation into the cause of Sunday night’s fire in O’Laughlin Auditorium is ongoing and a report is expected in a few weeks, Gwen O’Brien, director of media relations at Saint Mary’s, said Tuesday.

O’Brien said there is no imminent danger stemming from the fire. Saint Mary’s Security and the Notre Dame Fire Department were alerted of the fire at 10:59 p.m. Sunday and responded immediately to put the blaze under control.

The College notified students of the fire around 7 a.m. Monday via text, email and phone call with an automated voice recording.

“Saint Mary’s uses an alert system that is programmed by the College [determining] when to send out messages and what the messages say,” O’Brien said. “The messages sent through text, call and email were not an emergency alert but rather a community notice. Since there was no imminent danger, we did not feel the need to send out an emergency alert.”

Since no one had been in the auditorium at the time of the fire, College administrators made the decision to send out a community notice several hours after the fire had been extinguished and not an immediate emergency alert, O’Brien said.

Karen Johnson, vice president for Student Affairs, sent the community notice Monday morning to alert students of the fire. Her message also informed students that classes were to be called for the day in Moreau Hall, which reopened Tuesday.

“Saint Mary’s College is dedicated to providing a safe environment for all our community members,” Johnson said. “In cases of imminent danger to any member of the community, we use our Emergency Alert System to contact those persons impacted by the situation.

“In the case of the fire in O’Laughlin Auditorium, the auditorium was empty. No student, faculty or staff member was in imminent danger so we did not contact the community.”

O’Brien said there was no reason to assume a connection between this fire and another fire that occurred in Moreau Hall in the fall.

“We do not believe that this fire was connected with the first fire that was in Moreau this past November,” O’Brien said. “The cause of the last fire was undetermined but deemed not suspicious. All indications showed that the fire had not been caused with a purpose.”

When the fire alarm that went off inside the auditorium, O’Brien said Saint Mary’s Security was notified at the same time as the Notre Dame Fire Department.

“Since the Saint Mary’s Security is located on campus, they were the first to arrive at the auditorium when the alarm went off,” O’Brien said. “Notre Dame Fire Department followed shortly after, arriving within about three minutes. Saint Mary’s Security was trying to get the fire and smoke under control when the Notre Dame Fire Department arrived on campus.”

O’Brien said all safety procedures functioned smoothly Sunday evening.

“Saint Mary’s Security might not have been aware of how the College wanted to handle classes the next morning because decisions were being made throughout the night,” O’Brien said. “We made the information available on a need-to-know basis.”

A third-party specialist, First Response, has visited the building to expel the smoke that had seeped into Moreau Hall and caused classes to be cancelled, O’Brien said.

While Moreau Hall has reopened for classes, O’Laughlin Auditorium will be closed for an undetermined amount of time. The next event scheduled for O’Laughlin is Dance Arts 2013: Dance Speaks on Feb. 14. It’s unclear at this time whether the venue will need to be changed, O’Brien said.

“There is water damage to the stage area and offices below the stage. Once the investigation is complete, First Response restoration specialists will clean and refurbish damaged spaces,” she said.