SJSU dorm evacuated due to underground fire

August 27, 2009 3:22:55 PM PDT
More than 2,300 San Jose State University students were evacuated from a high-rise dormitory this morning after an old Volkswagen bus caught fire in an underground parking garage.

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University spokeswoman Pat Lopes Harris said no one was injured, aside from one person treated for mild smoke inhalation.

Early this afternoon, the evacuation was still in place and some students were waiting in the campus dining commons to be let back in, she said.

The fire started shortly before 9 a.m., two floors beneath Campus Village Building B, a 16-story high rise on 10th Street, San Jose fire Capt. Scott Kouns said.

A student was backing his 1975 Volkswagen bus out of a parking space when felt a "clunk" and the engine stopped, Kouns said. The student got out of his car to investigate, and saw flames coming from beneath the car.

After searching for a fire extinguisher, he pulled a fire alarm and used an on-campus phone to call for help, Kouns said. By that time, the Volkswagen was engulfed in flames.

"When those types of cars go, the magnesium engine makes it a little more difficult," Kouns said. Crews also had to extend their hoses more than 200 feet, since fire trucks and other vehicles were too large to enter the parking structure.

The concrete basement was designed to resist fire, Kouns said, but the entire basement filled with smoke. Firefighters had to use ropes and thermal imaging cameras just to get to the fire, he said.

Once they located the flames, crews extinguished them fairly quickly, Kouns said.

The fire was classified as a level-three high-rise incident, Kouns said, calling for nearly 100 firefighters on the scene in the event of an evacuation.

Kouns said students kept their cool throughout the ordeal.

"They did a great job," he said. "Especially since they are three days into the first week of school and there's a lot going on."

After putting out the flames, crews began removing water and releasing smoke from the underground garage.

At about that time, the fire department received another call reporting an odor in the area, Kouns said. Firefighters traced it to a tank of fuel in the back of the Volkswagen and removed the tank.

Now crews are assessing whether other cars were damaged, Kouns said. The Volkswagen was in the middle of the parking aisle when it caught fire, but the heat could have impacted other cars, he said.

The fire caused some traffic issues in the area, as the fire department and the university had to close off a portion of 10th Street for part of the morning.

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