Fire at freshmen dorm leads to five hour investigation

This story was co-written with Haley Smith

As the flames surrounded the elevator shaft, a Walker resident was able to capture the shocking scene and post it to Snapchat.
Photo by Izzy Peterson

Agents with the State Bureau of Investigation are trying to determine the cause of a fire at Walker Residence Hall last night.

Home to 400 members of the freshman class, the nine-floor dorm became a hot topic across campus and on social media as students were evacuated from the building at 5:15 p.m.

Smoke was detected from an elevator on the fifth floor and word spread initially through social media – with many students hearing about the event on Snapchat.

While first responders were on site and investigating the cause and damages of the fire, people were asked by WCU officials to stay away from the building. This restriction remained in place until the building re-opened at 10:20 p.m.

Cullowhee Fire Chief Tim Green said the department trains for the possibility of a fire in one of WCU’s three high-rise buildings.

A door-to-door search was conducted on each floor to clear the building.

Due to the 5 hour investigation, WCU’s dining hall and Campus Recreation Center remained open after hours to offer students a place of refuge from the cold.

Walker resident Christian Keoleian was taking a nap when the fire alarm went off.

“I figured it was another drill and I waited around for about 40 minutes,” Keoleian said.

He said he made plans to stay with a friend if the dorm hadn’t reopened last night.

Local fire departments arrived on scene to investigate the severity and cause of the fire.
Photo by Anna St. Onge

Many students were expecting it to only be a drill, resulting in students walking outside in minimal clothing and some even without shoes.

“I thought it was a drill, but I got all of my stuff, because I had class at six, and I just left,” resident Sierra Flasker said. “If I didn’t have class, I probably would have walked out without shoes on.”

Mckenzie Becker didn’t know what she was going to do if she hadn’t been let back into her dorm. After finding out about the fire through Snapchat, she attended a sporting event to pass the time.

WCU Emergency Services released five email updates to students, faculty and staff each hour following the incident. These updates dispelled rumors of water damage to rooms as students were concerned about their personal belongings.

Officials thanked everyone for their patience as they finished the investigation into the cause of the fire. Whether or not there is a determined cause, has not yet been made public knowledge.