Another Bowdoin College dorm fire started by candle

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BRUNSWICK — Brunswick firefighters responded to a fire at Bowdoin College early Monday morning, the second fire ignited by a candle in a dormitory since February.

Brunswick Fire Department was called to the Baxter House on College Street shortly after 2 a.m.  Brunswick Fire Chief Ken Brillant said the fire was contained to a second-floor room and that only a few small items were damaged. No one was injured and no students had to be relocated. The fire had been extinguished by the time firefighters arrived and never set off the sprinkler system. It did set off the fire alarm system.

“There was another fire with a candle and thank God there was a fire alarm system that notified them that there was a problem,” Brillant said.

Brunswick firefighters had responded to a dorm fire at Quinby House on Maine Street on Feb. 18. One Bowdoin College student was injured and roughly two dozen others were evacuated from their dorm rooms early that morning after a fire that Brillant said was sparked by an unattended candle.

The sprinkler system extinguished that fire, which was contained to a small area of a single dorm. It resulted in more water damage than fire damage.

Candles, along with other flammable materials, such as incense and lighter fluid, are not permitted under the student handbook’s residential life policies. According to the handbook, violations of the fire safety policies that result in “personal injury to others, damage to college property, or is a repeat offense of the same violation, be reported to the civil authorities for prosecution or fine.”

“Bowdoin takes these incidents very seriously and we hold students responsible when they violate college policy,” said Bowdoin College spokesman Doug Cook.

He didn’t comment on whether or not disciplinary actions were taken following the incident in February, but shared the letter sent to students by school administration in the aftermath of that fire providing a link to the college’s fire safety policy.

“This is an obvious time to remind everyone of our policy against open flames in our residence halls,” the letter states. “The policy exists because the risks are just too great. When accidents happen, and they will, the consequences can be devastating.”

The consequence for having an open flame in the residence halls begins with social probation, at a minimum, with the possibility of a Judicial Board hearing that may result in suspension or dismissal, according to the letter.

“We aim to send a strong message about the serious danger that candles and other open flames create in our residential spaces and campus buildings,” the letter adds.

In January, a three-unit apartment building on Swett Street, owned by Greater Brunswick Housing Corp., was gutted after a candle was left unattended. Everyone was evacuated safely, but the damage was serious and firefighters had to fight the blaze for several hours

Brillant said the latest fire is a reminder that candles can’t be left unattended. When used, they should be in a proper place and not in bedrooms where they can easily be forgotten about or someone can fall asleep.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, from 2012 to 2016, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 8,200 home structure fires per year that were started by candles. These fires caused an annual average of 80 deaths, 770 injuries and $264 million in property damage.

The association lists several recommendations for candle use, advising that candle users blow out all candles when they leave a room or go to bed. It is also recommended candles be kept at least 1 foot away from anything that can burn. Candles should not be burned all the way down and put out before the flames get to close to the holder or container.

The National Fire Protection Association also notes that two of every three candle fires starts when things that can burn are too close to the candle.

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