Update: UNO Dorm Fire Caused By Discarded Cigarette

By: Katie Stukey, Chase Moffitt, John Chapman, Jacki Ochoa Email
By: Katie Stukey, Chase Moffitt, John Chapman, Jacki Ochoa Email
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Information For Students and Parents

Call: 402 778-6211

Wednesday's dorm fire at UNO was sparked by a discarded cigarette on the second-floor balcony. The Omaha Fire Department confirmed Thursday its investigation determined the fire started on the second floor, not the third as originally thought. The two-alarm blaze destroyed the entire third floor of Building G in Scott Village.

UNO's smoking policy prohibits any sort of smoke or tobacco products inside university buildings or state-owned vehicles. In order to smoke on campus, users must be a minimum of 10 feet away from a building entrance.

No students were hurt in the fire. Firefighter Jim Pingel was treated at the hospital for a minor leg injury.

Students impacted by the fire were moved to Mammel Hall or Scott Food Court for the night. Some were put up at motels or stayed with family and friends.

Students on floors one and two were being escorted inside Building G Thursday afternoon. If all students don't get in, they will be escorted inside again starting Friday morning.

Matt Youso, a freshman on the UNO hockey team, was about to take a nap in his first-floor apartment Wednesday when the alarm sounded.

He said, “The first thing I thought about was my stuff. The fire didn't look too serious yet and I actually ran back in there. My buddy was screaming at me, ‘what are you doing?’ I grabbed my laptop and looked at what was the most valuable stuff I could find. I grabbed my phone chargers; books. I didn't want to lose my books."

Ian Brady is another UNO hockey player. Eight of them have been living in Building G this year. He told us, “We got other people out of the building by throwing rocks at the windows on the higher floors. Luckily everyone's OK."

University officials will hold a town hall meeting at Scott Café starting at 8 p.m. Thursday. Students with questions and parents of UNO students can call 402-778-6211 for information. Forty-eight students lived in the dorm. Anyone who'd like to help them may make a donation to the Red Cross by calling 1-800-733-2767. “My heart went out to them," said sophomore Elizabeth Kopisch. "I felt really bad, but you just go to be there for them when they need us.”

UNO says it has been inundated with requests to donate items. While the university says it has taken care of those needs and temporary housing for displaced students, there are other ways the public can assist.

Food donations for the Maverick Food Pantry may be brought to the Milo Bail Student Center's Student Life office on the first floor. For anyone wishing to make a monetary donation, the University of Nebraska Foundation has established a fund at nufoundation.org. Any questions regarding donations may be sent to wpickett@unomaha.edu.

The blaze broke out around 3:15 p.m. Smoke from South 64th and Pine could be seen for miles as winds from the southwest at 23 mph gusting to 31 mph made it more difficult for firefighters. “The top floor was just blazing right then," said sophomore Kyel Yager. "Firefighters were everywhere trying to get water on it. It was pretty scary. It was quite a big fire.”

The Scott Village student housing complex is made up of four-bedroom units, each with a kitchen. "I had gotten a call from my roommates when I was at work and they were freaking out, our room is on fire, so then I checked my phone and had about a million text messages and I saw the flames and that's when it really hit me,” said senior Kaitlin Boyce, whose room was right underneath a giant hole in the roof the fire left behind.

“I was on the shuttle coming back (from class)," said Molly Giles. "I just saw a bunch of smoke and then it was like a small fire at first and then it just got bigger and wouldn't stop.”

"I was in shock, I was all frazzled," said senior Kayla Caumeran. "We all just left and ran to the dorms and saw everything burning." The fire took more than laptops, books and clothes. “I'm planning a wedding in a couple of months so I just got our invitations yesterday. Those are all gone. Our bridesmaids’ dresses are all gone and pretty much everything. Our wedding rings."

One student told us, "I've never seen a fire like this before. We went out to run some errands and we saw the smoke and so we stopped and just tried to check up, see what happened. I checked up on my friends that I know that live in Scott Court to make sure they're okay and they are."

Another student said, "I'm blown away. I mean the first thing that comes to mind is, what caused it? And also, did everybody get out okay?"

“I don't know how to feel because I know that absolutely everything is gone and I'm just really hoping that there's a way that we can be reimbursed somehow with insurance or something, but I have no idea," said senior Angela Gillespie.

UNO Chancellor John Christensen released the following statement Thursday morning:

"On Wednesday, as Building G at Scott Court was on fire, I waited for confirmation that all students were accounted for and safe. We are all so thankful they were. There is nothing more important to me personally and to UNO than the care of and attention to our students.

We have quickly moved to assess the short and long-term needs of the displaced students. We will continue to do whatever we can to ease this very difficult situation. President Milliken and our Board of Regents have been very helpful and have offered to assist UNO however they can.

I want to commend the courage of the students who had to evacuate and the leadership and service of the Omaha Fire Department and the Omaha Police Department.

We are also grateful to the American Red Cross for partnering with UNO staff to meet the various needs of students Wednesday and today.

Lastly, a heartfelt thank you to the people of the Omaha area who flooded our phones with offers for guest bedrooms, clothes, food and donations. We would like to encourage anyone who wants to be helpful to send your donations to the local "Heartland Chapter" of the American Red Cross, http://www.redcross.org/ne/omaha.

UNO is very fortunate to call Omaha our home and to be part of such a caring and supportive community."

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