An underground transformer fire caused students living on campus to evacuate all buildings today.
American University started sending out alerts at 7:48am telling students to leave Leonard and Hughes Halls. Shortly after, they instructed students to evacuate all buildings and heard to the main quad. Eventually, students were moved even further back to East Campus by American University Police.
D.C Fire and EMS arrived to assess the situation but said they could not put out the fire until Pepco, an electric power company, cut off the power to the transformer. The fire was finally put out after burning for over two hours.
“I was really confused at what was going on at first and then I saw black smoke”, McDowell Hall resident Harshita Soni said.
While students were waiting on East Campus, the University Tweeted that they were organizing “Food plans” for the students.
“Theres a crowd at Federal and a crowd at Constitutional [hall]”, McDowell Hall resident Bilal Aksoy said. Aksoy said that “food plan” was chips, Pop-Tarts, and water that were being handed out to students. Later they gave out yogurt, milk, and nutritional bars.
Aksoy also said that the “AU alerts didn’t really help because it was late and vague information.” He said he received alerts to evacuate 10-12 minutes after he could hear the fire alarm going off in Hughes Hall. “I’m a light sleeper so I heard sirens and the fire alarm from Hughes and got really annoyed because it’s Saturday.” “I decided to look out to the amphitheater to see if AUPD has some drama, when I looked out, I saw smoke.”
Some students claim there was miscommunication in procedure during the fire. “I live in Cassell [Hall] and our fire alarm didn’t go off”, student Anna Waldman said. Waldman said after seeing the evacuation texts from AU Alerts her roommate asked a desk receptionist if they should leave but were told no. Waldman would like there to be more clarity in the AU Alert system when it comes to evacuations.
American University student, Bilal Aksoy also said he talked to an American University police officer who informed him that the current process of looking at why the fire occurred will take one to two hours minimum, and may continue into the night.
D.C. Fire and EMS reported no injuries and that the fire did not extend into any buildings.
Photo credits (Cover: Eamon Vahidi, 1, 2, 3: Harshita Soni)