$2,500 reward offered for information on MC fire

A $2,500 reward is being offered by Mississippi College and the state fire marshal’s office for information concerning a Saturday blaze in a campus dormitory.

The money goes to any person who gives information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons believed to have set a basement fire in the men’s dormitory Chrestman Hall.
By Ruth Ingram
ringram@clintonnews.com

“A couple of more minutes, and it could have taken the whole building,” MC public relations director Tracey Harrison said Monday. “Thank goodness the (Clinton) fire department happened to be out on another assignment and got there immediately.”

The 1:50 p.m. blaze was contained to the dorm’s basement level, which with the dorm’s other three floors houses a total 210 students, Harrison said.

Fire investigators are closely examining a sofa and television that were “burned up completely” in the lobby area of the basement, she said. “They believe it originated in that lobby area,” Harrison said.

“Us getting there quickly helped us to make sure the fire didn’t spread to the other contents on that floor,” said Clinton fire department deputy chief Tim Shanks. “The magnitude definitely could have increased. The more heat you have in a building, the more the building’s integrity can be compromised.”

Administrators and fire officials believe an arson fire may have occurred because of a number of “prank” fires that have plagued the campus in recent months, Harrison said.

“Of course, we don’t consider this a prank at all,” Harrison said. “There have been several pranks starting in late November, enough so that we think someone tried to do that on Saturday. None of them touched the seriousness of this.”

Said Shanks: “We’ve been up there multiple times lately for various sorts of fires in dormitories. There have been so many fire alarms lately.

“Our fear is that if this fire Saturday had been at 2 or 3 in the morning, we would have had some deaths.”

The entire dormitory filled with smoke, leading administrators late Saturday afternoon to relocate 50 students who were in the dorm over the weekend. Many of the dorm’s residents were home for the long Martin Luther King Jr . holiday weekend.

“Jim was so proud,” Harrison said, referring to vice president for enrollment management and student affairs Jim Turcotte. “He said his staff followed the emergency evacuation plan to a T. Praise God no one was injured.”

Shanks said his firefighters did a room-to-room search after the evacuation. “You have a fear that there were young people asleep, especially on a Saturday afternoon if they had nothing else to do.”

Harrison said crews worked on Sunday to clean out the smoke damage. “We got the report this morning that they had OK’d the air quality on the first three floors. Students can move back there today at 4 p.m.,” she said.

It will take a little longer for the basement level, she said. Alternate housing has been found for the 38 students who live there, Harrison said.

The campus’ newer dorms have sprinkler systems, but five older dorms — including 83-year-old Chrestman — do not, Harrison said. Administrators are working toward speedy installation of sprinkler systems in all of the dorms, she said.

“This fire opened the college’s eyes quite a bit on a lot of aspects. It will open the kids’ eyes,” Shanks said. “A fire alarm can mean the real thing, and this time, it was the real thing.”

To give information that will aid in the investigation of the fire, call the campus Office of Public Safety at (601) 925-3204. For other information, call the Office of Student Affairs at (601) 925-3359.

“Somebody knows something,” Shanks said. “We want people to tell us anything that is questionable in any way. The smallest information could lead us to something bigger.”

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