In the aftermath of May’s Santa Rosa Hall dorm fire, Housing & Residential Services and an array of university officials have scheduled a hearing to review the incident.
Nearly five months after the blaze – which destroyed six rooms, caused two student injuries and resulted in a building-wide evacuation – no charges have been pressed. UCPD Sgt. Matt Bowman said the accidental nature of the fire accounts for the lack of legal action by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office. However, Bowman said a confidential conduct hearing, scheduled for this Friday at an undisclosed location, will address future courses of action.
“We are not aware of a lawsuit,” Bowman said. “There is still an outstanding court case with regard to it, so our ability to comment is limited as a result of that. I was made aware that a conduct hearing is occurring this upcoming Friday from the folks over at Housing.”
As a result of Santa Rosa fire, dorm rooms adjacent to the room of origin were completely gutted and rooms in close proximity suffered broken windows and melted curtains. In an interview with the Daily Nexus at the time of the incident, Santa Rosa Hall resident Greg Goodwin, admitted he left hookah coals on his windowsill. The second-year business economics major did not directly admit to starting the fire, but said it was possible the coals from his hookah session ignited the blaze.
“I was fucking smoking hookah in our room and we went to bed an hour before it happened,” Goodwin told the Daily Nexus in June. “We put the ashes [from the hookah] on the windowsill. … We’ve done it before. Everything seemed fine and 40 minutes later, we woke up to smoke.”
According to the official UCSB incident report, “Charcoal ember placed on the windowsill [of room 2142 in Santa Rosa Hall] fell into brush below igniting the brush.”
Capt. Eli Iskow of the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. said the May dorm fire is an obvious – and dangerous – example of reckless behavior.
“Someone was really careless with smoking materials,” Iskow said, “People always need to be careful, especially with smoking materials, because mishandling of smoking materials is the second biggest cause of structure fires, and the biggest cause of fatal fires. This is serious stuff.”
Additionally, UCSB Fire Marshal Chris Wiesen said the abundance of dry vegetation surrounding the dormitory created an extremely volatile and hazardous situation. The UCSB Fire Dept. has encouraged Housing to remove any plants that are susceptible to fires, Wiesen said, although this process has yet to be completed.
“The fire actually started in vegetation, so Housing has taken steps to remove vegetation like that from the area surrounding the dorms,” Wiesen said. “Having dry vegetation like dry junipers growing against a building like that is something that we don’t want to see. Basically, you have the making of a brush fire right up against a building … Housing is still taking care of that.”
Another hazard, Wiesen said, is the absence of state or federal law requiring residence halls to be equipped with a sprinkler system. Three UCSB dorms – Santa Rosa, Anacapa and Santa Cruz Halls -are currently without emergency sprinklers.
“New construction projects absolutely have sprinkler systems – San Nic, San Miguel and San Raf,” Wiesen said. “For old residence halls, it’s up to the discretion and good will of the university.”
Wiesen said the university and the student body were extremely fortunate that no one was killed in the fire and he praised the timeliness of his staff in diffusing the emergency situation.
“One of the residents was awoken from the fire by firefighters,” Wiesen said. “He was a matter of minutes from passing away – he was partially narcotized from the smoke. If that kid hadn’t woken up, I guarantee you I’d have CNN and state legislators saying, you’re kidding me, my kid is sleeping in an un-sprinklered residence hall?”