The Park’s Building 13 fire was most likely caused by discarded smoking material, according to Alpha Fire Company Assistant Chief Shawn Kauffman.
The three-alarm blaze began at about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at 348 Blue Course Drive. It was under control by about 8:15 p.m.
“We have a point of origin, which is at the base of the outside of the building, and the fire was most likely caused by discarded smoking material that ignited bushes and mulch,” he said. “The exact cause is probably that, but there was too much damage to say exactly. It’s very common for all those areas to have discarded smoking materials. It’s no different than any other building.”
Firefighters had to be evacuated from the building after the roof collapsed at about 7:55 p.m. Each escaped without injury.
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“What we do is we try to attack offensively and go inside and get the fire out,” Kauffman said. “At about 25 minutes into (the) fire the roof collapsed, and we called them out due to the dangerous conditions. We used larger hoses after that. That caused a lot of water damage in the building, but that was the only way to get the fire out at that point.”
The fire may have also been stalled by Penn State students who tried to put it out before firefighters arrived.
“About a half dozen or so fire extinguishers were empty,” Kauffman said. “I don’t know who they were, but they tried to put out the fire.”
The building was not required to have sprinklers when it was built in the 1990s. Kauffman said sprinklers would not have had an effect on the fire, because the fire was mostly contained to outside of the building. The fire was also contained to the third floor of the building due to draftstop features in the building.
Apartment 309, he said, suffered the most damage due to part of the building’s roof collapsing.
The building is uninhabitable, though salvage work late into the night enabled students to gather some belongings.
“We’ve allowed students to be escorted in to get some of their things out while making sure we’re staying away from the unsafe areas,” Kauffman said.