Yale Daily News

An electrical fire that broke out Sunday afternoon in the basement of Kline Biology Tower has displaced the building’s occupants — human and otherwise — until further notice.

The New Haven Fire Department responded to a fire caused by an electrical transformer in the basement of a utility room in Kline Biology Tower at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday. While no injuries were reported, the building has since been powerless and closed off. The smoke and water damage — which is limited to the basement — is in the process of being resolved by various Yale emergency management crews. The tower’s critical laboratory equipment housed in the building was moved off site overnight Sunday. Cleanup and power restoration is expected to be completed later this week, according to a Monday Yale alert.

“We are cautiously optimistic that we can move back on Wednesday, and we can get back to work quickly,” said Vivian Irish, chair of the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology department and the point of contact for researchers housed in the tower. “I have been impressed by the resilience of our faculty, staff and students in terms of dealing with this very stressful situation.”

The New Haven Fire Department Twitter account first tweeted about an electrical vault fire at the street address of Kline Biology Tower, 219 Prospect St., at 1:30 p.m. Officers and trucks arrived on the scene shortly thereafter.

According to NBC Connecticut, New Haven’s Director of Emergency Operations Rick Fontana said that, although the fire was extinguished, power in the building has yet to be restored. Fontana and representatives from the New Haven Fire Department did not respond to requests for comment.

The basement of the building faced both smoke and water damage, but damage did not affect any other floors, according to a Sunday Yale alert. Video footage from the WTNH showed hazmat crews on the scene.

Yale stated on Sunday night that freezers in the building’s laboratories — powered by emergency generators — would be moved elsewhere overnight. The University asked that occupants of the building, which spans 16 stories and was once New Haven’s tallest, use other spaces on Monday.

According to Irish, it is too early to determine the extent to which research groups will be affected by the power outage. Still, she is “concerned about the potential significant losses in terms of reagents, samples and equipment and, of course, time.”

Since the Kline Biology Tower depends on living samples for research and laboratory work, Irish said the biggest challenge for her team has been maintaining the condition of their experiments.

For researchers, the power outage has already had a significant impact on their work.

Ronald Breaker, Sterling Professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, said his team’s samples will definitely be lost due to the lack of space in off-site refrigerators.

According to Breaker, the building’s most valuable bacterial samples were stored in low-temperature freezers, which were relocated to Osborn Memorial Laboratories. While the Breaker lab has over 30 refrigeration units, only some could be moved off-site. Breaker said this will result in the inevitable loss of research material.

In addition, since Breaker’s experiment depends on specialized equipment to handle radioactive experiments and the data is stored on a powered server, his lab has stopped performing experiments or working on bioinformatics until power is restored. In the meantime, he said, his team will work on writing manuscripts for other studies.

Despite the interruption, Breaker does not predict this power outage will permanently affect his work.

“It should be a few days to restore our experiments once KBT is made whole,” Breaker wrote to the News. “We are very thankful that the University administration was quick to realize the seriousness of the problem and to take action.”

For undergraduates and others who use the building’s cafe on the ground floor or are otherwise often on Science Hill, the closure represents a minor inconvenience.

Anna Sun ’21 often eats at the KBT Café due to her schedule and, for the rest of the time that Kline Biology Tower is closed, will “have to plan out” her meals. Sun said that the adjustment was not difficult on Monday but floated the idea of trying the food carts by Pauli Murray College in the future.

Kline Biology Tower was New Haven’s tallest building between 1966 and 1969.

This story has been updated to reflect the one that ran in print on Feb. 26. 

Angela Xiao | angela.xiao@yale.edu .

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu

Correction, Feb. 26: A previous version of this story stated that Kline Biology Tower has over 30 refrigeration units. In fact, Ronald Breaker’s lab alone has over 30 refrigeration units.