Chemical fire at WWU caused by accidental spill

A chemical fire at Western Washington University’s chemistry building this week was reportedly caused by an accidental spill of flammable liquid.

A student getting ready to dispose of a mix of chemicals that included acetone and hexane accidentally spilled the liquid on the floor Tuesday, Aug. 25, said Bellingham Fire Marshal Jason Napier, who was in charge of investigating the fire’s cause.

“The vapors found an ignition source inside the lab and caused a quick flash-fire,” Napier said. “Then the pool of liquid continued to burn until the sprinklers went off and extinguished it.”

The fire did not appear to have spread to any other chemicals, but a few lab supplies also were burned, Napier said.

No one was injured when the fire took off. There were six students and a professor in the third-floor lab at the time, Bellingham Fire Department reported.

Napier said his investigation did not include looking into what foul-tasting gas may have been breathed in by the first firefighters to enter the building before they put on protective breathing equipment.

The firefighters were sent to the hospital for evaluation Tuesday evening and released the same night after a few complained of sore throats and headaches, said Rob Kintzele, assistant chief with Bellingham Fire Department.

There is fire and smoke damage in the lab, smoke and water damage on the third floor, and residual water damage on the second and first floors, said Paul Cocke, university spokesman.

While emergency recovery and restoration company Belfor works to clean up the damage, the building will remain closed.

“We certainly hope (the building) will be ready by fall quarter, but it’s too soon to know,” Cocke said.

It will take some more time before the university can get an estimate for how much the fire response and repairs will cost, he said.

WWU is in between sessions, with Fall Quarter scheduled to start Sept. 24.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.