UPDATED: Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016 at 11:59 a.m.
The four-alarm fire in Morton Hall was caused by a charcoal grill left unattended on the roof of the building, according to a press release from the New Hampshire State Fire Marshal. The hibachi-style grill was placed on a flat section of the roof outside of a dormitory window.
Grills are listed by the College as prohibited in student residences, with possession subject to a $50 fine as well as disciplinary action. Students are also forbidden to place any items on a roof, fire escape or similar location. According to the Office of Residential Life individual room policies, the College assumes no financial or legal responsibility for any student injured as a result of such actions. ORL community policies also state that the College does not assume any responsibility or carry insurance for the loss of personal property within residences due to fire, accidents, flood and other catastrophes.
The fire marshal said that the investigation is still ongoing. Further interviews will be conducted as the investigation continues.
Morton Hall is currently uninhabitable as a result of extensive smoke and water damage caused by a fire that started at 12:05 a.m. on Saturday, according to a Saturday Hanover Fire Department press release.
College spokesperson Diana Lawrence said in a statement that the College is beginning to assess the extent and cost of the damage, and the building will need to be dried out before any repairs are made.
The New Hampshire State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Hanover Police Department are investigating the fire. Two firefighters who sustained minor injuries remained on duty at the site.
Hanover Fire Chief Martin McMillan said that the fire was particularly difficult to put out due to the building’s roof structure. Morton Hall has a large empty space at the top that helps air circulate for ventilation during the summer, but the increased airflow kept the fire burning. Special saws were required to cut through the structure to fully expose the fire.
“This fire was one in a million, very unique because of the structure,” McMillan said. “It’s the first one that I’ve seen and I’ve been doing this for 43 years.”
No one was injured in the fire and students were evacuated prior to the arrival of the fire department. The initial firefighters requested first-alarm assistance and began an interior fire attack. They conducted a search and rescue operation on the upper two floors, reporting near zero visibility on the fourth floor as a result of thick black smoke and high heat conditions. They reported moderate smoke on the third floor.
As soon as McMillan arrived, he immediately requested second-alarm assistance.
Several New Hampshire and Vermont fire departments, including Lyme, Lebanon, Enfield, Claremont, Hartford, Norwich, Thetford, Bradford, Windsor and Hartland assisted the Hanover department. The Lyme FAST Squad and Upper Valley Ambulance were on site to assist firefighters. The American Red Cross helped all responding agencies at the scene.
Priya Ramaiah contributed reporting.