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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Dorm fires on rise nationally; cooking common cause locally

A cardboard pizza box roasting in the oven might not be as uncommon as you would think.

Assistant Director of Housing Sharon Blansett said one of the most frequent causes of dorm fires are cooking related. Last year, for example, a pizza box ignited in a dorm oven, she said.

Dorm fires, which are on the rise according to a national study, can easily result from forgetfulness and cause long-term damage, local fire officials said.

The number of campus fires has jumped from 1,800 fires in 1998 to 3,300 in 2005, according to a recently released study by the National Fire Protection Association.

Megan Crandall, spokeswoman for the Alachua County Fire Rescue, said more than 70 percent of dorm fires are started by cooking equipment, such as hot plates being left plugged in.

"These kids are in college and we know they're smart. They just need to remember common sense," she said.

Another major area of concern is watching the amount of cords that are plugged in to outlets and power strips, said spokeswoman Laura Koppel of the Gainesville Fire Rescue.

Crandall said students run cords underneath mattresses to get them out of the way, but cords heat up and have started fires in the past.

Blansett said in order to cut down on fire risks, UF campus housing follows rules called community standards.

The rules describe in detail the kind of household items that are allowed, which include microwaves and certain types of adaptors, and those that are prohibited, such as Christmas trees.

Blansett said these rules are introduced early during Preview at a safety presentation and in campus housing guides.

Safety week runs from Aug. 23 to 31 when dorm rooms are thoroughly inspected for fire hazards.

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Fire drills will take place unannounced during the first month of the semester, Blansett said.

"You can't mess around with second-guessing a fire alarm," she said. "You always have to assume that it went off for a reason."

Crandall said she knows from personal experience that it's important for students to be aware of their surroundings.

"When I was in college someone came home in the middle of the night and caught the kitchen on fire," she said.

"They came home after having too much to drink, started cooking noodles and proceeded to fall asleep."

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