UPDATED: Students back in Baker after fire

By Herb Scribner

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Around 11:30 p.m. on Sunday night, Amherst Fire Department and University of Massachusetts Police Department responded to a small fire in the window well outside of Baker Hall. None were injured.

Baker’s residential director said that the fire department stated the cause of the fire was a mis-disposed cigarette which was thrown down the window well outside the main entrance and ignited dry leaves.

He went on to explain that sparks shot up from the well, and a box on the inside of the Baker was pulled to warn security.

Brent Garnett, an off-campus senior that was visiting Baker, was in a craze over the commotion.

“There were sparks everywhere,” Garnett said. “I thought it was much worse than it was  because everyone was yelling at us to move.”

People began filing out of Baker almost immediately and stood in the Baker-Chadbourne-Greenough quad area as black smoke and crackling embers spewed from a steam vent adjacent to the Baker lobby access ramp.

Shortly after, resident assistants (RAs) came out and shouted through megaphones that students needed to leave the quad and move to the street level in front of Greenough and Chadbourne.

David Haber-Mattie, who was waiting inside the Greenough lobby with about 20 other Baker residents, said he was in his room on the fourth floor when the alarm sounded. He then evacuated with other residents and spotted the fire as he came outside.

“There were some embers coming out from the basement,” he said.

Dennis Hacker, who was standing with the group outside Greenough, said he had just gotten back to his room on the third floor when he heard the alarm sound.

“I kind of moseyed my way out and as soon as I came out, people were directing us away from the building,” Hacker said. “And all we could see was sparks coming out from underneath one of the vents. It wasn’t actually flames; it was just sparks and smoke.”

Within minutes of the alarm sounding, units from the UMass Police Department, Environmental Health & Safety, UMass Residence Hall Security and AFD arrived onscene. The fire was quickly contained and extinguished, and students were allowed back into the building around midnight.

After the alarm was shut off, the bulk of the emergency personnel left. However, an AFD ladder truck remained parked in the Baker loading ring while two firefighters used a long pole to get a closer look at some of the residue left in the bottom of the steam vent.

AFD claimed that lit cigarettes had been carelessly discarded in the steam vent, which had ignited the dry leaves, grass and other debris at the bottom. The two firefighters also told a group of interested onlookers standing nearby that any debris in the bottom of vents can pose a fire hazard.

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