January 30, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 29°F


Firefighters put out electrical fire in science building

An electrical fire caused by a person plugging in a device in a Center for Natural Sciences lab set off multiple alarms today, forcing all students, faculty and staff in the building to evacuate.

Tim Ryan, an Environmental Health and Safety incident commander assesses damage in the Center for Health Sciences lab. MICHELLE BOULÉ/THE ITHACAN
A fire trucks sits outside the back entrance of the Center for Natural Sciences on Friday. The building was evacuated after an electrical outage spark created a small fire. MICHELLE BOULÉ/THE ITHACAN

The fire prompted response from downtown firefighters and police, Lieutenant Dave Burbank of the Ithaca Fire Department, said.

No immediate injuries were reported.

The alarm from the fire went off at 1:13 p.m. and soon after, several fire trucks and police vehicles filed onto campus, lining the back entrance of the building as officials directed people to the lawns outside of the Roy H. Park School of Communications.

A team of seven firefighters was able to extinguish the fire with water cans and contain the seeping smoke, Burbank said. The building and its surrounding areas remained on lockdown between about 1:15 and 2:35 p.m. The lab where the fire started was thick with smoke — trash cans and bins overturned and residue from the fire visible on the lab sink and countertop.

“We’re going to check for carbon monoxide, double check for any gas leaks and quickly finish our investigation,” Burbank said. “We’re going to meter the space to make sure it’s not hazardous in terms of natural gas and smoke.”

Dan Briotta, associate professor of physics, was teaching an advanced physics lab in CNS when the alarm went off. He said he was quick to get his students out of the room.

“I was in room 211, which is upstairs,” he said. “I told everybody ‘Get out, now.'”

Along the hallway, a clear haze of smoke filled the first floor and more smoke continued to rise, accumulating on the third floor. Police escorted small groups of students into the building to retrieve their belongings from the lab.

Tim Ryan, an Environmental Health and Safety incident commander, was on the scene to check for any environmental emergencies and to prevent any gas leaks in the building. During lockdown, Ryan and a team of environmental safety officials checked all parts of the building.

“Gas has been turned off,” he said. “We’re trying to ventilate and get the smoke out using a gas-powered fan.”

It is still unclear as to whether the lab will be available for use when classes begin again Monday and officials say they are still assessing damage to all equipment in the lab including computers and projectors.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the fire took place in the Center for Health Sciences.