On Tuesday, Nov. 22 at The University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg Campus, a fire broke out in the drainage system beneath the Theatre and Dance building and caused students and faculty to evacuate.
City of Hattiesburg Fire Marshal and Inspector Stephen Mooney said the cause of ignition may have been a cigarette butt tossed in the drain.
“They found the origin was some leaves on fire in the drainage system that originates on the other side of the building,” Mooney said. “It took us entering the basement on the opposite side of the building and going through a maze of the mechanical system to get to that system to find the origin of the fire. We’ve been attempting to enter the basement to get to the [fire’s cause]. Right now, we don’t have any clear identification of the source is, so we have teams trying to find that at this time.”
University Police Chief Bob Hopkins said the Hattiesburg Fire Department received a call about smoke in the building’s basement.
“[The smoke] wasn’t enough to activate the alarm system at the time,” Hopkins said. “But that early response gave us a heads up to be able to get over here rather quickly. The fire department is currently venting the smoke with fans. Our physical plant is already making contact with the restoration companies to get in here and give us an assessment.”
Master of the Fine Arts Program Louis Rackoff said he was in the middle of teaching inside the building when the fire alarm sounded.
“We grabbed all our stuff, went out into the hallway and there was a little bit of smoke,” Rackoff said. “We exited the building, and by then there were already police on site getting everyone out of the building.”
Rackoff said he thought UPD’s work was efficient.
“The police handled the situation, and the fire brigade was here already,” Rackoff said. “It happened very, very fast.”
Forrest County was placed under a burn ban by the Mississippi Forestry Commission Nov. 21. The burn ban disallows outdoor burning of any kind — this includes campfires, fire pits and fireworks.
No students or faculty sustained injuries, and everyone evacuated the building, according to Hopkins.
“The building will be closed for the rest of the day as well as tomorrow,” Hopkins said. “We are going to allow the faculty and staff to come here at 2 p.m. to get their personal items.”
This story will be updated as more information is revealed. Stay with The Printz.