Local News

Many Recall UNC Fire as Anniversary Approaches

Posted May 8, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Very few in the Triangle will soon forget Mothers Day, 1996. Five mothers each lost a child in an early morning fire inside a University of North Carolina fraternity house. Today, the gutted Phi Delta Gamma house still stands on Cameron Street, a monument to tragedy, but much has changed in Chapel Hill to ensure such a tragedy won't occur again.

As they will again this year, UNC seniors received their diplomas on Mothers Day last year, but there was little joy on campus that day. Fire investigators said a sprinkler system might have saved those five lost lives.

The fraternity has decided to let the house stand and to renovate the inside. Blueprints show two stairwells on either side of the house with fire doors, a sprinkler system and other state-of-the-art fire safety features. Alumni Chairman Dave Batten says the new interior will be constructed with non-combustible materials.

The fraternity house will not be the only building in Chapel Hill with sprinklers. After last year's fire, city leaders passed one of the most comprehensive sprinkler laws in the country.

Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones says living in Chapel Hill is getting safer.

But, while the law and the look of the fraternity house may change, it won't help anyone forget what happened there last May. UNC student David Wagoner says people on campus seems to be much more aware of their safety.

Construction on the interior of the Phi Delta Gamma house is expected to begin this summer. Fraternity members hope to be able to move back in by the fall in 1998. Inside the house there will be a memorial room with plaques to honor the memories of the five people who died there.