Local News

Safety strides at UNC Greek houses help extinguish fire

Posted April 12, 2011 1:20 p.m. EDT
Updated April 12, 2011 7:05 p.m. EDT

— Safety improvements made since a fatal fire at a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill fraternity house more than a decade ago helped stop a Monday fire at a UNC frat house from spreading.

Chapel Hill Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Matt Lawrence said a small personal electric fan fell onto a bed, heated and ignited a fire at the Sigma Chi house, at 102 Big Fraternity Court, on Monday afternoon.

The building's sprinkler system extinguished the fire.

All fraternity and sorority houses at UNC were required to have sprinkler systems following an early-morning fire on May 12, 1996 – it was both graduation day and Mother's Day – at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house. Investigators determined cigarettes in a trashcan sparked that fire, which killed five people.

In addition to the sprinkler system, all Greek houses at UNC are inspected twice a year, and each house has its own student fire marshal.

"I have no doubts that sprinklers in fraternity houses are a great idea," said sophomore Justin Miller, whose bed caught fire at the Sigma Chi house.

Miller said he went upstairs to get some cold medication and noticed the fire.

"I kind of froze up, and black smoke hit me in the face," Miller said.

Miller said it took about two minutes for the heat to trigger the sprinkler system. Water soaked the building down to the basement.

There were no injuries.

"(I'm) pretty fortunate. Luckily, I wasn't up there sleeping," Miller said.

Due to electrical concerns, the power to the building has been cut off until clean-up can take place, Lawrence said. The fire caused about $15,000 in damage.

Miller said the university is helping the residents of the house find temporary housing.