Minor fire breaks out in vending room in Darte Center

Christine Lee, News Editor

A small fire occurred on the first floor of the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center in a vending room next to the ticket counter last Tuesday at 6:33 p.m.

According to the official report filed, the fire was caused accidentally by a microwave in the room becoming overheated when the microwave was inadvertently turned on and left on for an extended period of time with a glass bowl full of spaghetti sauce inside.

The fire was contained to that room and ignited some nearby furniture. “Gemini” Director Joe Dawson reported that the spaghetti sauce was made to be used for a scene in the play.

Freshman musical theater majors Kassy Richmond and Courtney Littlefield were the first to notice the fire when they went to grab some props for that night’s run-through of the latest theater department play, “Gemini.”

“We were all called for rehearsal at 6:30 for a rehearsal and I’m a props running crew and I was like, ‘well, I should start setting the props now to get it done early.’ So me and Courtney Littlefield were going to set the props and we went into the hallway to get to the prop closet to set props and all we saw in the hallway was just smoke,” Richmond said.

Richmond didn’t think the smoke was dangerous until she approached it and could smell what she determined was a fire.

“I went toward (the smoke) ‘cause I wasn’t sure if it was a fog machine that they were testing or something and all I could smell was fire so I was like ‘oh, OK,’ and I went out and I warned Dave Yezefski who heroically grabbed the fire extinguisher and controlled it,” she said.

The report stated when the fire personnel arrived on the scene, they found that in addition to being met by Public Safety officers, the building was evacuated and a good portion of the fire was contained by Yezefski and freshman theater major Shaun Pierre with fire extinguishers.

“Looked in the hallway, smoke billowing down the hallway, grabbed some extinguishers and went in there and whacked the (expletive),” Yezefski said. “I think if we had got in there about a minute later, it would have been out of control cause it was starting to go into the ceiling.”

Fire Chief Jay Delaney said if it had not been for the actions by Yezefski and Pierre, the fire could have spread to dangerous conditions.

“This could have been a very, very bad fire,” Delaney said. “It was literally within minutes of getting to be something very bad, could have been far worse if had not been for the actions of (Yezefski and Pierre) along with the rapid response from the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department.”

Delaney explained that although the walls and ceiling are fire-resistant, they will still aid in the spread of the fire and once the fire gets to the ceiling, it can travel in any direction. However, thanks to the quick action on the part of Yezefski and Pierre, the fire didn’t spread to the ceiling.

“(Yezefski and Pierre) used some common sense: they shot the fire extinguishers, they used them properly and then they exited the building and they let the fire department come in and do their job,” he said.

Delaney also noted that in addition to the quick action on the part of those in the Darte center, no one was injured, there was no major property loss and the evacuation of the building was smooth.

“In terms of the evacuation, sometimes people panic, it didn’t appear that that happened, and people get hurt when they panic,” he said. “So in this case almost everything went right, except for the accident that started the fire.”

Delaney commended the fact that those in the Darte center at the time of the fire were able to evacuate to begin with.

“Many times we go to fire alarms and people are just complacent and really don’t pay attention but in this instance, the fire department found the building be evacuated, and that was a very good thing,” he said.

Both Delaney and Fire Inspection Officer Capt. Alan Klapat emphasized that food should not be left unattended in a microwave.

“I would think 99 percent of the student body would think, ‘microwaves don’t burn, fires start on stoves when you’re cooking something or when there’s gas and there’s flames,’ but here’s a perfect example of a microwave that will burn,” he said.

“Gemini” director Joe Dawson reported that the spaghetti sauce was made to be used for a scene in the play.

He said the fire wouldn’t affect the opening of the play. Although the fire was only contained to the vending room, it caused a lot of smoke to be distributed throughout the first floor.

The building was closed down to be aired out and resumed its normal operations the following day at 8 a.m.