Published in The Boston Globe March 25 print
By: Mina Corpuz and J.D. Capelouto
Three Boston University students, a city firefighter, and two school police officers were treated for smoke inhalation at local hospitals after a three-alarm fire broke out at BU Friday morning, officials said.
The blaze struck the university’s College of Communication and caused an estimated $500,000 in damage to a radio studio, Boston Fire officials said.
Students and faculty were evacuated at about 9 a.m., just before smoke began to pour out a window in a top corner of the building at 640 Commonwealth Ave.
The fire started in a recording studio on the top floor of the three-story academic building, said Steve MacDonald, a spokesman for the Boston Fire Department. Much of the studio received smoke and water damage, he said.
Chemicals from the soundproofing material in the studio caused black smoke to spread in the windowless room, MacDonald said. Extra manpower had to be requested because firefighters had to climb to the top floor and frequently change their oxygen tanks, he said.
“When you have the soundproofing material burning, the smoke from it is very toxic,” MacDonald said. “The concern is always the firefighters’ health and safety. Once we knew the citizens were out, we go about our work in a safe manner.”
High-volume fans were used to clear the area of potentially dangerous fumes, fire officials said.
Jenna Perlman, a BU sophomore, was preparing for a TV show on the third floor when the crew was told there was a fire.
“We heard the alarm go off, and it’s a very old building so I don’t think half of us realized it was a fire alarm going on,” she said at the scene. “I thought it was a radiator; I thought it was something else. I thought it was going to stop.”
Perlman said she “thought it was fake” until she saw students emerge from the building with their faces covered in soot. She pointed to some of it on her face, which she said she got from hugging the students who were taken to the hospital.
Boston University sent out an alert to all students at about 9 a.m. urging them to avoid the area, and firefighters struck a third alarm at 9:30 a.m.
The cause and origin of the fire are under investigation, MacDonald said.
Giovanna Fernandes, a senior at BU, was filming for a different TV show on the third floor when she and her crew saw smoke.
“At first we thought it was a light from one of the studios getting smoky, but when the people from the other studio called us about the fire, we knew it was something,” she said at the scene.
Classes in the College of Communication were canceled for the day. Crews worked to clean up the site on Friday, said BU spokesman Colin Riley, and he was hopeful the building would reopen on Monday.
The building will open momentarily on Saturday for students and faculty to collect their possessions, the university posted on Twitter.
Kreag Sheehan, a sophomore, was also on the third floor when the fire started. He said there are usually many people in the building at that time of day.
“I was kind of freaked out when they brought in five fire trucks,” he said. “I’ve never really been in anything that was a real fire. It was kind of scary.”