Christmas lights cause dorm room fire

A blanket draped on top of overheated Christmas lights on a loft frame caused a fire at 9:52 p.m. in 427 Bridgman Hall Friday, Eau Claire Fire Department Inspector Jan Harter said.

Sophomore John Harrigan assisted freshman Mike Sabaka out of the room, while freshman David Washa used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire, according to an ECFD report.

“They prevented it from being a larger situation,” Harter said. “It could have been more damaging and it wasn’t.”

Sabaka, who was asleep in his burning bed, suffered second-degree burns to his hands and his chest, according the report. Freshman Nick Landauer, Sabaka’s roommate, was not in the hall at the time of the fire.

Harrigan said it was a tough night and refused to comment further on the incident. Sabaka also refused to comment.

Around 8:40 p.m., Bridgman Hall RAs Siggy Spelter and Jenna Hamersky arrived on the fourth floor after RA Steven Davis heard loud noises coming from the room, according to a University Police report.

After opening the door, they found nine students drinking and asked them to remove all the alcohol containers in the room. Harrigan and Sabaka were among the students who received underage drinking citations, according to the report.

After the RAs cited the students in the room, Harter said some of them left the area while others remained on the floor.

According to the ECFD report, Harrigan stayed with Sabaka, who was on his lofted bed, after the party. When Sabaka threw up, Harrigan decided to leave the room. As he did, he noticed the Christmas lights were on while Sabaka slept, according to the report.

About 10 minutes later, Harrigan and Washa heard a smoke detector buzzing while they were in their rooms. Once Washa opened his door, he said he noticed smoke coming out of Sabaka’s room.

While other residents attempted to get into Sabaka’s room, Harrigan walked over to the door and entered the combination, according to the ECFD report.

“Once John (Harrigan) opened the door, he actually grabbed him and got him out of the room,” Washa said.

Washa then pulled the fire alarm and grabbed the hall’s fire extinguisher, he said. When he walked inside the room, he noticed the fire was 6-inches to a foot high. The flames were contained to the bed and futon area, he said.

“(The fire) went out pretty fast,” he said. “Other people assisted in getting help and calling the fire department and calling the police.”

Around 10:45 p.m. at Sacred Heart Hospital, a University police officer issued Sabaka a $243 citation for underage drinking, first offense, after he blew a .13 in his Preliminary Breath Test.

The bedding from Sabaka’s bed was partially burned or melted. The lights, which were wrapped around and taped to the metal bed frame, were constantly on and next to the bedding, according to the report.

Steamatic of Western Wisconsin, 3300 Horlacher Lane, a local fire and water damage cleanup company, will clean the room today, said Mike DeGroot, assistant Housing director. The company’s service will cost $1,587.

“Our goal is to get this cleaned up and get the students moved back into the room as quickly as possible,” DeGroot said.

Because Sabaka’s materials caused the fire, his homeowner’s insurance will be responsible for the damage to his contents and the room, Housing Director Chuck Major said.

For now, both Sabaka and Landauer have been relocated into separate rooms in Bridgman Hall until their room is fixed, which could take a week, he said.

This incident, Major said, will give Housing an opportunity to further emphasize safety in the residence halls.

“Whenever we have an incident like this, we use that as an opportunity to remind people to be careful.”