Hundreds of DSU students evacuate after fire breaks out in dorm room

Photo taken by Averee Ryann Heinlen of DSU students evacuating Nisson Towers Friday night after a structure fire was reported, St. George, Utah, Sept. 1, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the Dixie Sun News, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Hundreds of Dixie State University students were evacuated just before midnight after a battery charger overheated and caught a bed on fire late Friday night.

Shortly before midnight firefighters and emergency personnel were dispatched to a structure fire reported at Dixie State University’s Campus View Suites, the new four-story housing complex on 100 South near the intersection of 1000 East.

Photo taken by Averee Ryann Heinlen showing DSU campus with St. George Fire Department on scene for structure fire reported late Friday night, St. George, Utah, Sept. 1, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the Dixie Sun News, St. George News

According to initial reports, a bed inside of one of the dorms was possibly on fire, and an evacuation was in progress, St. George Battalion Chief Darren Imlay said.

Upon arrival firefighters entered the complex and found light smoke in the hallway. Once fire crews entered the bedroom, they discovered that the fire was already out. The onsite housing manager reacted quickly using a dry-chemical fire extinguisher to put the fire out while firefighters were en route to the campus.

“The housing manager did a really good job of putting that fire out,” Imlay said.

The heat from the fire did not rise to the level that automatically activates the fire alarms, so officers from the Dixie State Police Department, St. George Police Department and deputies from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office went door-to-door to evacuate hundreds of students.

The building can hold 352 students; however, the exact number evacuated was not available at the time of this report.

Photo taken by Averee Ryann Heinlen showing DSU campus with St. George Fire Department on scene for structure fire reported late Friday night, St. George, Utah, Sept. 1, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the Dixie Sun News, St. George News

Fire officials determined that a battery pack plugged into the wall and recharging on one of the beds caused the fire.

“We found the cause to be a failed battery charger as one of the occupants was charging a cell phone battery pack that was placed on the bed, and when it overheated, it caught the bedding material on fire,” Imlay said.

The building is equipped with a sprinkler system but the system never activated because the fire was extinguished so quickly, Imlay said; the heat needed to activate the system wasn’t present. With early intervention, the smoke and heat never rose to the level needed to activate the fire alarm or smoke detectors, initiating the door-to-door evacuation instead.

Fire crews began ventilating the building to remove the smoke, and after inspecting the area to make sure it was safe, students were allowed to return to their dorms.

No injuries were reported.

“This fire could have been a lot worse, but the manager really did a good job and prevented further damage or injury,” Imlay said.

Lithium batteries are capable of spontaneous ignition and subsequent explosion due to overheating that may be caused by electrical shorting, overcharging, manufacturers defect or mechanical damage, among many other causes.

Overheating results in a process called thermal runaway, which is a reaction within the battery causing internal temperature and pressure to rise at a quicker rate than can be dissipated, according to Heming Fire.

Lithium-Ion Battery safety tips:

  • To avoid overheating batteries, never overcharge your device; unplug the device once it is fully charged.
  • Avoid charging your device on flammable materials, such as the bed, couch or on paper.
  • Never keep batteries near heat sources or in high temperatures, such as direct sunlight, radiators or laptops.
  • Don’t allow batteries to get wet or be exposed to water.
  • Avoid keeping batteries in the open where they can get damaged.
  • Never throw batteries in the trash.

Campus View Suites is the new $22 million suite-style housing complex that covers nearly 90,000 square feet with 60 apartments that can house six students per unit with a total capacity of 352. It also features various common areas, including kitchen and laundry facilities on each floor. Each apartment has a living room, kitchenette, bathrooms and bedrooms.

Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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