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Arsonist strikes Old Main, fire department says

Nov. 4, 1997

By Cindy Szelag

Staff Writer for The Baylor Lariat

The Waco Fire Department and Baylor officials believe an arsonist started a fire Friday morning in a hallway on the first floor of Old Main.

'Somebody apparently deliberately ignited a fire in front of the women's restroom,' said Chief Jim Doak of the Baylor Department of Public Safety

Lonnie Kelly, arson investigator for the Waco Fire Department, said 'all possible sources of accidental ignition were eliminated,' and he believes someone used a flammable substance to initiate the fire.

Kelly said samples from the hallway and restroom have been sent to the Texas Fire Commission in Austin for analysis. The fire department expects the results back in 10 business days.

'There's no affirmative report yet, but that's the only way a fire like that could be started,' Kelly said.

Kelly said the fire department was dispatched at 3:48 a.m. Two minutes later, at 3:50 a.m., 17 firefighters, four engines, two aerial trucks, the assistant chief and Kelly left for Baylor campus.

The firefighters returned to the fire department at 4:35 a.m. after extinguishing the blaze.

Kelly said he would describe the damage caused by the fire as minimal.

Larry Brumley, associate vice president of communications, said the damage was limited to the carpet and the walls of the hallway and door of the women's restroom, and did not damage any of the professor's offices or classrooms on the first floor of Old Main. Classes were still held on the first floor Friday.

Bagby said repairs of the building will take about a week.

'We're replacing the ceilings and carpet, repainting the walls, doing repair work on the door, cleaning the duct work and putting a coating on the walls to kill the fire smell,' Bagby said.

Ken Simons, assistant vice president and business manager, Don Bagby, manager of facility planning, and Brumley said they had no monetary estimate of the damage.

'It was really a pretty minor fire,' Brumley said. 'Thank goodness for the fire alarms and the Waco Fire Department. They were really Johnny-on-the-spot.'

Doak also said the fire department and the fire alarms prevented a much more serious problem.

'We call it a near miss,' Doak said. 'It could have been a bad fire.'

Old Main was built in 1887 after the consolidation of Baylor University and Waco University.

The Baylor Police checked the building at 2:19 a.m., one hour and 20 minutes before the fire began, and found no suspicious activity. Old Main is usually checked 2 to 4 times per night, Doak said.

Doak said although there are occasionally minor fire problems in the men's dorms, there has not previously been an instance of arson in an academic building.

'This is extreme,' Doak said. 'It's nerve-wracking. Somebody's got a problem out there, and we hope to find who that person is.'

'The investigation is ongoing,' Doak said.

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