A fire in an elevator in the A tower of the University of Wisconsin’s Witte Hall forced residents to evacuate the building early Thursday morning.
According to a Madison Fire Department report, the incident was a “small electric fire in the electric box in one of the elevators.” The building, which was evacuated at about 3:15 a.m., is an on-campus residence hall that houses 1,150 students.
“I didn’t really know what was going on because I was kind of asleep and confused,” said Witte resident Levi Smith, a UW freshman. “Once we got outside, we could smell smoke.”
According to Mike Kinderman, assistant director for University Housing Building and Grounds Support, the fire started in the emergency phone box in the elevator.
Kinderman said investigators have removed the emergency phone box from the elevator and will use it to determine the cause of the fire.
“Certainly wiring is a possibility, someone starting the fire is a possibility, but I don’t think we know one way or the other right now,” he added.
Smoke detectors in the elevator lobby set off the alarm, which automatically notified the UW Police Department and prompted residents to evacuate the building, Kinderman said.
According to Witte residents, the building has been evacuated multiple times this year, though never because of an actual fire.
“I was ADDIN AudioMarker 571 incredibly annoyed because this is probably about the 20th (time) of the year,” UW freshman Jeremy Berg said.
Berg said residents did not know if it was a real fire, especially in B tower where he lives, until they saw the fire truck and smelled something burning.
UW freshman and Witte resident Caitlin Klein said she thought it was another false alarm until she opened her door and smoked filled her hallway.
Klein, who lives on the 10th floor of A tower, said two fire trucks and several police cars arrived on the scene quickly.
“The fire trucks were [on the scene] before I even got downstairs,” Berg said.
Berg added he was only outside for about 25 minutes, and students were huddled under blankets because it was cold.
Residence life coordinators e-mailed Witte residents around noon Thursday explaining what happened and informing them the elevator would be shut down until Saturday morning for cleaning.
According to the e-mail, the cause of the fire is being investigated by the UWPD.
“Someone knows something about what happened,” Kinderman said. “We’re hoping those people come forward, either call UW police, tell a residence life coordinator or a house fellow or call the area Crime Stoppers.”
Witte residents said there has been some speculation and rumors about the cause of the fire.
Berg said he heard that “someone had thrown a burning object in the elevator,” while
Klein said she heard it was a “possible arson case.”