Cigarette sparks fire in Branford

At 7:11 p.m. Thursday, firefighters were called to Branford College to put out a fire.
At 7:11 p.m. Thursday, firefighters were called to Branford College to put out a fire. Photo by Marcus Schwarz.

A cigarette in a garbage can started a fire on the first floor of Branford College entryway G around 7 p.m. Thursday evening, according to a firefighter at the scene. No one was injured, and damage was isolated to the one suite and the basement below it.

The blaze began in the trash can but caught the side of a wooden television stand and then burned part of the TV, a firefighter who responded the blaze said. Fire sprinklers activated automatically, and students pulled a fire alarm and called the Yale Police, Casey Verkamp ’10 said. Students said fire alarms in Branford started going off around 7:11 p.m.

Water from overhead sprinklers flooded the Branford College laundry room after a fire Thursday night.
Water from overhead sprinklers flooded the Branford College laundry room after a fire Thursday night.
New Haven firefighters wait outside Branford College on York Street shortly after being notified about a fire Thursday evening.
New Haven firefighters wait outside Branford College on York Street shortly after being notified about a fire Thursday evening.

Verkamp, who lives on the third floor of entryway G, said she was in her room when her suitemate told her they should leave because she smelled smoke. Verkamp went out to the courtyard and heard a smoke alarm going off, she said. She then saw flames through the first-floor suite’s window. The common room was filled with smoke, Verkamp said, and she called the police while other students pulled the fire alarm.

At least five New Haven Fire Department trucks arrived at the scene within minutes.

The four students who live in the suite were taken, one at a time, into a Fire Investigation Unit truck by police and fire officials about an hour after the fire alarm first sounded. No arrests were made, and three of the students who live in the suite returned to Branford’s Linonia Court around 10 p.m., where they collected their belongings from their bedrooms, which were not damaged by the blaze.

The students in the suite will not be allowed to sleep there for two to three days, Branford Master Steven Smith said. All four students in the suite declined to comment.

Smith added that any disciplinary action would be handled by the University, not him, and that an official fire report will be released.

Security Director Martha Highsmith could not be reached for comment, and YPD and NHFD officials said they could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

The New Haven Fire Department and the Yale Office of Environmental Health and Safety officials surveyed damage to the affected suite.

What looked like the remains of the trash can lay in the middle of the suite, severely charred. Fire damage marked the TV stand, radiator covers and one of the walls. Sprinklers flooded the basement below the suite.

Branford students standing on the walkway between Branford and Jonathan Edwards colleges said they had left their rooms after hearing a fire alarm and had been told by the police to leave their courtyard.

Bea Koch ’12 stood outside in just a towel and flip-flops. The alarm had gone off while she was in the middle of a shower, she said.

“I literally always think I’m going to get locked out and be standing in the hallway in a towel,” Koch said. “Now I’m standing in front of my college in a towel.”

Colin Ross contributed reporting.

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