A recent fire at Fairfax House in the early hours is being treated as an arson attempt. The incident, which occurred at 3.30am on the 3rd of March, has raised concerns about student safety which have led to one student leaving the University.
The off-campus Vanbrugh accommodation on Heslington Road was evacuated when a kitchen caught fire. The police, who were called to the scene, believe the fire to have been started deliberately. When it was discovered, all four hobs, the grill and oven had been left burning and a sandwich toaster had been plugged in and placed on top of the gas hob.
Two undergraduate residents, Sam Turner and Gareth Williams, extinguished the blaze before the fire service arrived. Turner said: “All four hobs were burning with the sandwich toaster on top. The fire was started deliberately.” The kitchen suffered minor smoke damage and is now back in use.
The police have been involved but no arrests have been made, nor have any suspects been named. The Vanbrugh Vice-Chair Ryan Bennett has suggested that most residents appear to share a view about who did it, but that they are not happy for this person to be named.
The motive for the attack remains unknown, but Bennet said: “It might have been a cry for help or attention.”
According to Bennet, a Computer Science student, who cannot be named, has left the university since the fire due to concerns over his safety. A female , who chose not to be named pointed out that the student’s room was at a great risk if a large fire had caught hold and that he “would have had no escape route.”
Fresh concerns have been raised over health and safety standards in colleges, as one fire extinguisher failed to work when Turner and Williams attempted to use it to put out the blaze. This equipment failure comes only weeks after fire extinguishers were found to be out of date in Derwent C block, and just months after two students were hospitalised after a separate fire in Fairfax House.
Fire equipment in Fairfax House has now been tested, and faulty equipment replaced. University authorities are carrying out room inspections to check for flammable materials, and in a move to increase security, CCTV has being installed by the front door.
Bennet expressed annoyance by the way the fire was handled by members of security staff, and plans to write a letter of complaint to the Head of Security about the matter.
He alleges that a member of the University security staff berated students for having come outside in dressing gowns and slippers, calling them “stupid” and telling them they “should have taken a few minutes to putsome warm clothing on.”
Bennet said on Sunday: “It was ridiculous. It contradicted everything we’d ever been told about fire safety.”
The Provost of Fairfax has launched a full investigation into the incident.