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Recent fire in Drake Hall leaves questions unanswered

By Nicole Laegeler and Kelli Ponce
On January 31, 2012

  • Drake Hall Fire. Courtesy Jim Jorstad

UW-La Crosse is starting off spring semester a bit warmer than usual this time around, as 271 Drake Hall residents woke abruptly to fire alarms sounding at 4:20 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29.

Residents fled the building and saw the flames rise to the ceiling of the hall's basement. Fire department officials verified that the blaze originated from a couch in the basement of Drake Hall, but the cause of the fire is still under investigation. "They're still investigating, but they've ruled out electrical problems, accelerants and heaters," said Chancellor Joe Gow.

The damage to the building is worse than many can see from walking past. "It was 800 degrees in that room during the fire," said Gow, "We [UW-La Crosse] express deep gratitude to the La Crosse Fire Department for getting there right away and preventing the fire from getting worse." No one was injured or killed due to the incident.

The intensity of the fire caused major damage to the interior of the building, which has left many students wondering where to go. The university is making accommodations for the Drake residents as best as possible. "There's a variety of situations here," said Gow, "Some students had friends off campus they could stay with in the early stages of the incident, but now that we know students won't be able to return for a longer period of time, we have other options." The university is working on locating vacant rooms in other residence halls to house Drake residents and  converting study lounges into living spaces. Many faculty and staff members offered their homes to students, as they have available rooms, and some two-bedroom residents offered to take in a third.  UW-L has also been in contact with Viterbo and WTC, but no official plans have been made to house UW-L students. "We've also looked into housing students in a hotel, but that's challenging because they don't usually give rooms for a month," said Gow.

Currently, many Drake residents reside in the basement multi-purpose room and other classrooms of Eagle Hall. Residents of Eagle Hall welcomed Drake residents with signs and room decorations. "Eagle residents did an awesome job decorating for us," said Sarah O'Brien, a Drake Hall resident.    

Gow is so proud of students that everyone left the building in a timely fashion. "I spoke with Gregg Cleveland, who is the Fire Chief, and he said what a great job students did. It's nice to hear that the fire department admires UW-L's responsive behavior in situations like this." He reminds UW-L how important this event is, that it is not always a false alarm.

"Before I came to UW-L, I was at Nebraska Wesleyan and there was a fire. One student was killed and four others injured," said Gow, "I'm so thankful no one was hurt or killed  in this fire at UW-L."

Gow encourages students to help with the investigation of how the fire started. "I would hope that no one broke the rules and smoked in the basement," said Gow, "If someone left it down there, it would have caused the fire." Anyone who has any potential information regarding the cause of the fire, please contact university police.


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