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Campus Responds to Fire Report

Chancellor’s Task Force Report on the April 2004 Fire At Lothian Residence Hall Prompts Campus Responses

Campus Moves on Recommendations to Avoid Future Blazes

(January 26, 2005)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — — University of California, Riverside officials have undertaken a series of measures ranging from inspections of existing buildings to the installation of new fire-safety equipment in response to a Chancellor’s task force examining a fire that gutted the kitchen of the Lothian residence hall last April.

The task force outlined recommendations designed to minimize the likelihood of another similar fire, which displaced about 1,000 people. The task force concluded that personnel from UCR’s student housing, the campus fire marshal, UCR campus police and the Riverside Fire Department were extremely well coordinated, and characterized their response as outstanding.

Within 48 hours, residents were allowed back into the building, meal services were extended at the Aberdeen-Inverness and Commons cafeterias, generators were installed to provide air conditioning and hot water, and Student Recreation Center showers were made available to Lothian residents.

“The immediate reaction of our campus community to the fire was effective and professional in its responsiveness,” said UCR Chancellor France A. Córdova. “This assessment is part of an ongoing process to look for existing and potential problems and then take the necessary steps to address them for the safety and security of our students, faculty and staff. I want to commend the skill, sensitivity and professionalism of our task force members and the staff that has responded to its recommendations.”

In the months since the fire, the campus has:

  • Thoroughly examined all housing buildings to assure that no other instance existed where high-temperature steam piping ran through potentially combustible material, which investigators cited as the most likely cause of the blaze;

  • redesigned the new Lothian food service facility to eliminate high temperature pipes, and include fire sprinklers, smoke and heat detectors;

  • reviewed plans for all other buildings constructed in the past 10 years to determine if they included similar designs as in Lothian and concluded that they did not;

  • assessed structures built before 1994 and determined they also did not pose potential risks like those in the design of the Lothian food service area.

No one was injured in the April 26, 2004 fire, reported shortly after 12:30 a.m. It damaged about 3,000 square feet and is expected to cost about $4.8 million to restore the building to full operation, make upgrades and expand the facility. The final phase of reconstruction is scheduled to begin in February and be completed in July 2005.

Citing the most likely cause of the Lothian Residence hall fire as a steam pipe that overheated an attic space, the State Fire Marshal’s office, which conducted the initial investigation and the task force, concluded the cause was accidental and placed its origin above a walk-in refrigerator-freezer unit in the Lothian Residence Hall kitchen.

Combustion evidence indicated that the blaze began as a slow smoldering fire and most likely caused by heat buildup from a high-temperature steam pipe that passed through a wooden support, the only source of heat in the attic space.

The six-member task force was formed in June 2004 and consisted of faculty, staff and a UCR Foundation trustee who met five times and interviewed UCR, Riverside city and state officials. They were asked assess the conditions leading up to the fire, the fire prevention measures that exist at student residence halls on campus, and to recommend actions to minimize future losses due to fires.

The members of the task force were: Shankar Mahalingam, chair of the task force and professor of mechanical engineering; Mary Gauvain, professor of psychology; Jim Gilliam, UCR trustee and vice president of governmental relations at HMC Architects; Richard Minnich, professor of Earth sciences; Trexler Proffitt, assistant professor of management; and William Schmechel, staff representative and director of research compliance.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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