Fire causes damage in Haas

Story by Haley Zblewski

Haas Fine Arts Center was evacuated and firefighters were called after a fire started in the Gantner Concert Hall on Feb. 3.

Smoke had filled the building and firefighters discovered a small fire in a room under the stage of the Gantner Concert Hall, contained to several large storage bins that were holding stage curtains.

Blake Rogers, a freshman, was in a classroom down the hall from Gantner Concert Hall when the fire alarms started going off.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Rogers said. “I thought, ‘Is this a drill?’ But then I could smell something and when we opened the door there was a huge wall of smoke.”

Several of the evacuated students were without coats as they waited outside Haas. Some were wrapped in blankets and others huddled together for warmth, teeth chattering as they wondered out loud when they’d be allowed to go back inside.

The effects of the smoke were not just contained to the music department. Professor Ned Gannon was in the art wing of Haas in his life drawing class and hadn’t even noticed the fire alarms at first.

“We kept drawing for a long time before we realized,” Gannon said. “We came out into the hall before (the alarm) was much louder and we saw the smoke and knew we needed to get out.”

Sarah Bruening, a junior, was in band rehearsal when the evacuation began, and was also unsure of what was going on.

“I saw the flashing lights (of the fire alarms) and thought someone was taking pictures,” Bruening laughed.

Lyle Koerner, the Deputy Chief for the Eau Claire Fire Department said there was only a small amount of fire and the area beneath the stage was the most affected area.

“The smoldering is what caused the heavy smoke down there,” Koerner said. “The building has sprinklers, but it didn’t get hot enough to activate the sprinklers. It was more of a smoke problem.”

Koerner said the fire was quickly put out and the storage bins were removed by firefighters and hosed off in the snow outside Haas.

There were no injuries, Koerner said. Several students who came into contact with the smoke were looked over by EMTs, but no problems from smoke inhalation were found.

After removing the charred curtains, the building was ventilated, and students were allowed back inside Haas, but were told to stay out of the halls as residual smoke still needed to be ventilated.

Despite the fact that the fire was contained and put out quickly, much damage was done to the area under the stage.

Laura Doty, Chief Secretary of the Eau Claire Fire Department, said the university estimated the cost of the damage is $10,000 for the storage bins and the curtains and another $5,000 for the stage riser.

Relaying information from Battalion Chief Dave Okas, Doty said after investigation it was determined that a welding accident caused the fire.

“There was someone welding on the stage and some sparks hit the curtains,” she said, adding there would be no further investigation into the fire from the Fire Department because it was clear that welding was the cause.

After the fire, students Tyler Stromquist-Levoir and Tristan Killey, both juniors, were relieved that no more damage occurred.

“It would have been bad if it had burned down more,” said Killey, who had grabbed his coat and saxophone before leaving the building. “There is a lot of personal property, like instruments, that the university doesn’t insure.”

Stromquist-Levoir, who was in Wind Symphony rehearsal at the time of the fire, agreed, and added that the quick arrival of fire trucks rushing down the hill was an amazing sight to see.