By: Sean Robinson, Lindsi Fulk & Nick Beaulieu
Forty-two students have been displaced and their belongings destroyed as a result of a discarded cigarette.
Shortly after 3:20 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, emergency officials responded to a call that Building G of Scott Village on the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Pacific campus had erupted in flames.
Capt. Tim McCaw said that no students were injured in the fire, but Fire Apparatus Engineer Jim Pingel was taken out on a stretcher after hurting his leg fighting the fire and has already been released from the hospital.
“For sure the third floor [of building G] is fire damaged,” McCaw said. “Then when you have an elevated master stream dumping water on at approximately a thousand gallons per minute, apartments are either going to be fire damaged, smoke damaged or water damaged.”
Officials determined Thursday that a discarded cigarette on a second-floor balcony caused the residence hall fire. Although university officials have yet to comment if an investigation will be launched to determine who the cigarette belonged to, students aren’t permitted to smoke within ten feet of any campus building.
It is unclear how much damage was caused to the first and second floors of Building G, which houses a mix of undergraduate students, including international students, athletes and scholarship recipients.
Students who live in the damaged building will temporarily stay in other residence halls or with friends and family that live in Omaha.
“They will all have a place to sleep tonight,” said Erin Owen, director of University Communications.
As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, smoke was still billowing from the creases of the blackened, damaged roof. By the time the fire had calmed, broken glass from shattered windows surrounded the building and a large portion of the roof was gone.
Over 50 police officers and firefighters responded to the scene, lines of caution tape keeping a crowd of on-looking students back.
“Obviously this is a shocking situation [for students] to come and see their dormitories on fire,” Owen said. “This is a rare occurrence. This isn’t something we expect to happen but worse case scenarios do happen, and that’s why we have crisis communication plans in place.”
The Scott Village buildings to the north and south of G were evacuated due to the wind-driven blaze. No flames spread to the other buildings.
American Red Cross and mental health counselors were on sight to respond to student’s needs.
“We have training in place to make sure our students our safe,” Owen said. “Any students that need assistance will get whatever they need.”
“This is all that I have,” said one student to his friend, gesturing to the clothes he was wearing. “I don’t have my laptop, my tablet; all of my stuff was in there.”
Scott Matson, a student who lives in Building G, said he heard an explosion had erupted from his residence hall after all the students had evacuated and been taken a safe distance away from the blaze.
Matson and others from Building G were escorted into the Scott Hall clubhouse directly following the evacuation. For over an hour after, they watched as their rooms and belongings went up in flames.
“That room with the wall missing is mine,” Makayla Caumeran said. “My wedding is in May, and I just got my invitations yesterday. They were in there, and now they are gone. Our bridesmaids dresses were in there, everything was in there. That was my whole wedding.”
To support the students from Building G, UNO donated $8,000 of books, school supplies and clothing from the campus bookstore. The university also loaned laptops and the IT department has been working to recover students’ hard drives.
“If students do not have renter’s insurance or a policy covered by their parent’s insurance, then we are doing everything we can to get what the need,” said Charley Reed, media relations coordinator. Vice-Chancellor Dan Shipp said UNO will replace all necessities students lost, regardless of insurance.
“The support for students won’t go away after one day,” Shipp said.
People who want to give monetary donations to help displaced students can donate online through the NU Foundation.
Residents were allowed back into the first and second floor on Thursday to retrieve any belongings that may not have been damaged after officials determined the building to be structurally sound. UNO has yet to comment if the building will be renovated or demolished.
“We will continue to do whatever we can to ease this very difficult situation,” said Chancellor John Christensen.