Nearly a week after a fire torched six rooms in the Santa Rosa Residence Hall, authorities are still deciding how to deal with the damages and consequences of the blaze.
Details of the event are beginning to emerge as the University of California Police Dept., the Campus Fire Marshal and Housing & Residential Services conduct inquiries into the residence hall fire. The fire – which was reported at 3:30 a.m. on May 30 and burned for over four hours – was likely started by discarded hookah coals, allegedly left on a second-story windowsill.
Of the six damaged rooms, four have been rendered completely uninhabitable for the remainder of the school year, while two may be back in commission once windows and curtains have been replaced, Executive Director of H&RS Wilfred Brown said. Currently, 12 students have been forced to move to other locations on campus.
According to UCPD Public Information Officer Matt Bowman, the individuals living in the room connected to the hookah coals are under investigation for their actions but are not facing any charges at the moment.
“At this point, we are not ruling anything out, including that [the] actions were not criminal,” Bowman said. “This is America, and people are innocent until proven guilty. As far as we’re concerned, he hasn’t done anything unlawful pending the conclusion of our investigation.”
However, Bowman noted there may be one immediate charge for the students that allegedly caused the fire: smoking in the dorms.
“One thing worth mentioning, it is unlawful to smoke in the Res Halls,” Bowman said. “In addition to housing consequences, the police have been called in to intervene. There is a joint investigation taking place involving the Santa Barbara Fire Dept., the Campus Fire Marshal’s office and our office.”
Meanwhile, according to Brown, the students who allegedly started the fire will be subject to a two-part investigation process – one conducted by H&RS and another by the UCSB administration.
“We certainly know that individuals were involved in the accidental start of the fire,” Brown said. “They are going to go through both the housing process and the University process to determine what will happen to their housing status and enrollment status. Those things are all under consideration. I have not got any direct reports from the police yet, but that will be the subject of our judicial process once we get all our information from the police.”
As for the physical repercussions of the fire, Brown said repair work on the building can only begin once the former inhabitants of the damaged rooms have removed all their possessions. After that, Brown said the renovation process will be extensive and may take close to four weeks to finish.
“We haven’t put a price tag on it yet,” Brown said. “I imagine it will be pretty expensive because most of the rooms will need new furniture, windows, carpeting, paneling and curtains, and the outside of the building will probably have to be sandblasted to remove the scorch marks.
“Really, we would like to have the rooms back together by June 14, and they should take about three to four weeks [to repair] once we get back in there,” he added.
Although the fire was severe, Captain Eli Iskow of the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. said the flames could have destroyed much more of the residence hall had it not been contained.
“We stopped the fire because we fought it aggressively,” Iskow said. “It could easily have spread and done major damage to the building.”
Brown said while the situation is not ideal, he is relieved that no one was severely harmed by the blaze.
“We’re not happy there was a fire, but we are happy that no one was injured,” Brown said. “Our staff did a marvelous job getting people out safely. We got people out of the cold and away from the fire. We feel pretty good that all the students got out safely.”