Archive for Tuesday, December 10, 1991


December 10, 1991


A fire started by a candle caused $150,000 to $200,000 damage to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house on Monday night, firefighters said today. No injuries were reported.

Fire Chief Jim McSwain this morning said the fire started in room 207, on the north wing of the three-story building at 1301 West Campus Rd.

A candle left unattended by the room's occupants ignited nearby bed linens, McSwain said, and the fire spread to a mattress and bamboo window blinds before lapping out the room's window and up to the third floor.

Firefighters contained the blaze to two rooms on the second floor, two rooms on the third floor and part of the attic, McSwain said. There was heavy smoke damage to the second and third floors in the north wing and moderate water damage to three rooms on the first floor.

KANSAS UNIVERSITY Police Lt. John Mullens spotted the fire and reported it to a dispatcher at 10:50 p.m., McSwain said. The first fire unit arrived at the fraternity house three minutes later. Every on-duty fire unit in Lawrence responded to the alarm.

The fire was visible from the second floor when firefighters arrived, McSwain said. Firefighters brought the blaze under control within 30 to 40 minutes and extinguished it within an hour and a half.

The building, located on the west side of the KU campus, houses 74 students and a house mother. About 20 people were inside when the fire was discovered, and all got out safely. Firefighters also rescued all of the pets in the house.

The fire department last inspected the SAE house Oct. 17 and found that its smoke-detection system was out of service, McSwain said. The system was repaired the next day, and its alarm was sounding Monday night as firefighters arrived.

FIRE ALSO damaged the building in April 1984, when an electrical short sparked a blaze that caused $85,000 damage, he said. That fire began in a room on the third floor in the north wing.

McSwain said the most recent fire at a KU Greek house was in 1989 at the Sigma Chi fraternity, 1439 Tenn. Extinguished by a sprinkler system, it caused $670 damage.

Twenty-three of KU's 41 occupied Greek houses are equipped with sprinklers, McSwain said. The SAE building does not have a sprinkler system.

The city's current fire code does not require sprinkler systems in Greek houses. The fire department has just begun considering recommending changes to the code, which is scheduled to undergo review during 1992, he said.

MCSWAIN SAID he did not know whether the department would recommend mandatory sprinkler systems in Greek buildings, but he encouraged more Greek chapters to install them.

"We need to provide an adequate level of protection to these kids," he said. "I don't know how else we can do it without sprinkling."

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