Nearly 40 students will be scrambling to find housing for the last weeks of school in the wake of a three-alarm fire at the Oxford Monday night.
The blaze, which investigators said likely began at 10:30 p.m. Monday in the basement or a first-floor closet, drew 14 firetrucks, 60 firefighters and scores of onlookers to 36 High St., a stone building between Chapel and Crown streets. No injuries were reported, although two students received oxygen for smoke inhalation, an officer at the scene said.
For the past two nights residents of the Oxford have been offered housing at the Holiday Inn on Whalley Avenue, paid for by Yale. Seventeen students stayed in the hotel, and the rest stayed with friends.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, said fire marshal Phil Cappucci on Tuesday.
But several of the building’s residents said the building’s poor physical condition and upkeep were likely to blame and added that the fire did not take them by surprise.
“It was just a matter of time,” said Reilly Dibner ’02, a second-floor tenant. “There were wires exposed that people reported, but nothing was fixed all year.”
Many students said they mistook the fire alarms for false alarms and did not initially plan to exit the building.
“We heard the alarm, and at first we laughed because it goes off frequently for no reason,” said Deanna Sahady ’01, a resident on the first floor. “We were going to yell to the guys upstairs to keep it down, but then we saw flames shooting from the stairwell.”
As residents tried to escape the burning building, several got stuck on the fire escape in the back, which did not have a ladder connecting the second story to the ground. Eventually, students on the fire escape were rescued by firefighters using a ladder.
“People told us to run to the back and go from the fire escape, but there was no way to get down,” Anne Rippetoe ’01 said. “We hung out there for about 20 minutes before some really nice firemen came with a ladder. It felt like it happened pretty quickly.”
As firefighters finished putting out the blaze and inspected the building, residents, many dressed in their pajamas, lingered on High Street. Some tearfully telephoned friends, while others blamed building owner Odis Coleman for failing to keep the building in a safe condition.
Coleman, who purchased the building this year with plans to renovate over the summer, did not return phone calls Tuesday.
Around 11:30, residents met with arson investigators and Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg in Linsly-Chittenden Hall to discuss where they could stay for the night.
Residents were allowed to return to their apartments Tuesday afternoon escorted by fire fighters. Walking out carrying duffel bags full of clothes, stuffed animals and laptop computers, residents said most of their valuables had survived the fire, though two laptops were reported stolen.
The physical condition of the building, which residents said included exposed wiring, dripping pipes and leaky toilets, sparked much discussion among those evacuated from the building.
“The building was a death trap,” said Mike Schulte ’01, of the second floor. “We sent letters but never heard from them.”
Residents said their frequent phone calls to Coleman about various problems in the building were seldom answered.
Fire investigators said they had never heard any complaints about the building until Monday night, and Cappucci said no complaints or requests for inspection had been filed with his office.