Fire mishap

By By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

The James Fletcher Building was evacuated last week after a physics experiment caught on fire.

On Wednesday, assistant physics professor Paolo Gondolo was showing his introductory physics class how to create sound using a Reicke tube.

A Reicke tube is a hollow cylinder about 12 feet tall with a small burner inside, near the bottom. During the experiment, the burner is turned on for one minute. After the heat is shut off, the remaining air inside the tube creates sound.

When Gondolo turned off the burner, however, he didn’t hear anything. Instead, he saw flames coming out of the top of the tube and spreading across the ceiling.

“Some of the students started laughing when they didn’t hear anything,” he said. “I don’t think they realized it was a fire.”

Gondolo told everyone to leave and the 80 to 90 students who were in the lecture hall, Room 101, evacuated before the overhead sprinklers were set off. Staff and students in other parts of the building were also asked to evacuate.

No one was injured in the accident, which took place around 2:10 p.m.

Police officers and firefighters were called to extinguish the fire.

Besides a black spot on the ceiling and the $25 it will cost to replace the tube, there was no damage to the building.

U Fire Marshall Mike Haligan expected the one inch of water that covered the lecture hall floor and the paint blasted off the wall by the sprinklers to be cleaned by the time classes resume today.

Brian Saam, assistant professor in physics, said the department has been using the cylinder for more than 20 years and could not explain why it caught on fire.

This is the second accident the James Fletcher Building has experienced. The first was a threat several years ago when a bomb squad exploded a suspicious package left in one of the bathrooms in the building. The device was not threatening, Haligan said.

“Tensions were just high back then because it happened between 9/11 and the Olympics,” Haligan said. “So this is not that big a deal.”

Some of the students came back after the fire was extinguished to take pictures, Gondolo said.

“Because it was the day before Thanksgiving, most of the students were gone anyway,” Gondolo said. “The rest, though, got a special treat.”

Kim Peterson

University of Utah fire marshall Mike Haligan explains where flames spread on the ceiling after a botched physics experiment led to a small fire on Friday in the James Fletcher Building