Written by Nicole Montero/Asst. News Director
Nearly 500 University students were evacuated from their homes after a fire at 109 Tower, a 15-story building that functions as off-campus housing for students.
The fire started on the 10th floor of the kitchen on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at around 1 a.m., according to NBC 6 News.
The tower’s sprinkler system put the fire out quickly, but caused damage to the lower floors. There was damage caused by flooding because of a “robust sprinkler system,” according to Elizabeth Bejar, vice president for Academic Affairs at a faculty senate meeting Tuesday.
“Around 1 a.m., I noticed that there were a lot of fire trucks and ambulances outside the building,” said Chloe Antoine, a junior majoring in liberal studies and a 109 Tower resident.
“I understood there was a fire and I called the [person] on-call and they told me that it had already been put out.”
But, at around 3 a.m., she was woken up by firefighters.
“I woke up because firefighters were knocking on the door telling everyone to evacuate,” Antoine said. “Everyone in the building was locked outside and spent the whole morning there. I was there from 3 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. until I finally went to my grandmother’s house.”
However, some students don’t have anyone in South Florida to stay with.
“I am an out-of-state student from Puerto Rico,” said Daniela Garcia-Rovira, a senior majoring in advertising and a Tower resident. “109 is the place I call home. I have some friends who have offered me a place to stay in case of anything, [but] I’m just anxious to know what will happen.”
However, Bejar said the University will hotel some residents and shuttle them back and forth to campus if needed. She also said that she can validate for faculty which students were affected.
Garcia-Rovira thought she would be allowed to grab her stuff before evacuating the tower, but they rushed her out.
“I was shaking and scared,” Garcia-Rovira said. “They wouldn’t even let us be in the lobby. I sat outside in small steps in front of the building, hoping this would only be a couple minutes. Those couple minutes turned into hours.”
At 10:30 a.m., police let students change their clothes and grab their laptops and books on a floor-by-floor basis. They were also given meal passes to buy breakfast at Fresh Food Company at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus Graham Center.
“I was on the last floor, so we were the last group to be escorted up to our rooms,” Garcia-Rovira said. “The building is now on lockdown until further notice, and I have not heard anything as to when it will re-open.”
The University released a statement stating that no one was hurt and that the building was going to be inspected later on.
“We ask faculty be patient and sensitive to this situation, as many of the evacuees likely will be unprepared for class today,” wrote External Relations in a University-wide email.
Hundreds of students were displaced by the fire in the building, located on the corner of 8th Street and 109th Avenue, according to NBC 6 News.
It is not yet known when they will return.
“There are electricians inspecting plugs on each floor to make sure there’s no problem, and the firefighters will also inspect each floor to make sure it’s safe,” said Antoine. “Most of the students were just really upset because we were kicked out and weren’t allowed to go back in to get anything.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
“I want my bed,” said Garcia-Rovira. “I want the 109 Tower officials to address this personally and explain everything to us. I want to get as much information as possible.”
On Dec. 2, most students returned to their homes.
The students whose apartments were directly affected will be relocated until repairs can be done, said External Relations in another statement.
“We would like to thank the residents of 109 Tower for their patience throughout this incident and City of Sweetwater officials for their cooperation in getting the building back in service,” said the statement.
Additional reporting by: Philippe Buteau/Staff Writer
Video by Camila Fernandez/News Director, photos by Camila Fernandez and 109 Tower