Fourth floor fire occurs in Cance Hall

By Alyssa Creamer

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Brian Canova/Collegian

The night before spring semester classes began at the University of Massachusetts, the Amherst Fire Department responded to a damaging fire on the fourth floor of the low-rise Cance, a Southwest residential building. No one was injured.

Assistant Chief Lindsay Stromgren said the fire was believed to have originated from a candle in an unoccupied room, and that all other possibilities need to be ruled out.  

The fire began in room 471 and sprinklers contained the fire to the room. The water from the sprinkler system damaged areas throughout the fourth floor and the hallways of the third floor. One attack line was used to put the rest of the fire out in the room.

Stromgren explained a common misconception about the heat-activated sprinkler systems is that when one goes off, they all go off. Only the sprinkler in room 471 went off. However, the water spilled out of the room, damaging the carpet of the entire fourth floor and the hallways of the third floor.

“What’s interesting, from an educational standpoint, is that we searched the rooms on the third and fourth floors to make sure that nobody was still in them and we found another candle in a third floor room,” said Stromgren. “We know the University has a policy against candles but people are obviously not following it.”

“I’m just glad nobody’s hurt,” said Eddie Hull, executive director of housing at UMass. “A fire is the worst nightmare for someone in my role.”

“The alarms were going off and I heard people saying this is not a drill,” said Raquel LeBlanc, a freshman chemistry major and Cance resident, who was in the building at the time of the fire. “There was smoke in the hallway and thick black smoke was piling through the window.”

Four crews were called to the scene, including a student crew, an off-duty crew, a rescue truck and the chief officers. Fearing Street was closed down during the fire, re-opening just after nine o’clock.

UMass Facilities stated in a message to a Collegian reporter, “News Office tells us that someone using a candle on the 4th fl[oor] caught a shade on fire; sprinklers came on (as designed, but lots of water); building evacuated; all but 28-30 returned to the building, with remaining put up at CC; no injuries. Expensive candle.”

Text messages from a Cance resident assistant to a friend on campus were forwarded to a Collegian reporter.

According to the text message conversation, rooms 471, 371 and 469 were “destroyed,” and approximately 20 rooms on the side of Cance closest to Washington Tower “had intense water and smoke damage.”

The messages confirmed that residents whose rooms were damaged in the fire were relocated temporarily to the campus center for the next few days.

Additionally, the text message conversation revealed that rooms in the center hallway of Cance had anywhere between one and three inches of water floating on the floors.

“I was the point-person, the RA who has to stay and wait for the cops and be in the building as a contact person,” said Cance resident assistant Sarah Holtzer, in a phone interview with the Collegian.

“The fire department came promptly,” she said. “They were there literally in a minute.”“Everyone is safe,” said Holtzer. “It wasn’t as a big of a deal as it looked like, because everyone was safe, and that’s the main point.”

Alyssa Creamer can be reached at [email protected] Brian Canova can be reached at [email protected]