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WWU chemistry building to be open fall quarter after fire

Firefighters enter Morse Hall Chemistry Building at Western Washington University to handle a chemical fire that erupted Tuesday, Aug. 25. The building is expected to reopen in time for fall classes.
Firefighters enter Morse Hall Chemistry Building at Western Washington University to handle a chemical fire that erupted Tuesday, Aug. 25. The building is expected to reopen in time for fall classes. The Bellingham Herald

The Western Washington University chemistry building where a lab caught fire is expected to open in time for the start of fall quarter, the school announced Wednesday, Sept. 9.

The accidental fire erupted in a lab on the third floor of the building Aug. 25, with six students and a teacher inside.

It started around 5:15 p.m. after a student disposing a mix of chemicals that included acetone and hexane spilled the liquid on the floor. The vapors found an ignition source and caught fire before the building’s sprinklers extinguished the flames, Bellingham Fire Marshal Jason Napier said days after the fire.

Firefighters who were first to enter the building complained of sore throats and headaches after breathing an unknown gas. They were sent to the hospital and released the same night. The teacher and students in the building, who all evacuated, were not harmed.

The building, Morse Hall, has been closed since, while Belfor — an emergency recovery and restoration contractor — and university workers repair damage. The fire was confined to one room, but the sprinkler system caused considerable damage to scientific equipment and materials on multiple floors.

The estimated cost of damage is $1.6 million to $1.9 million. Western will seek funding from a state emergency fund for some costs while others will be funded from university reserves, the school said.

The building remains closed for the time being. A date has not been announced for when it will open, but Western says Belfor’s work should conclude next week and the university staff will finish cleanup in time for the start of school Sept. 24.

The chemistry department front office has moved to College Hall 09. Faculty and staff using the chemistry labs in between summer and fall sessions are continuing work elsewhere on campus.

Reach Wilson Criscione at 360-756-2803 or wilson.criscione@bellinghamherald.com.

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