Arson strikes LLC: $1 million estimated damages; $12,500 reward for information

ReAnne Utemark

UPDATED: October 21 to reflect increase in reward from $5,500 to $12,500.

A fire in the north elevator in the Living Learning Center Saturday morning caused a mass evacuation of the residence hall and estimated damages of $1 million.

Before 5:45 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18, 396 students in the LLC left the building. According to a university press release, fire officials reported heavy smoke on the top floor when they arrived at the scene. Officials from the Washburn University Campus Police, the Kansas State Fire Marshall’s office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the City of Topeka Fire Department are continuing the investigation. As of press time, these officials ruled the fire as arson, or intentionally set. The origins of the fire were in the elevator, which is equipped with fire doors. The estimated dollar loss is $1 million and a reward of up to $12,500 may be offered to anyone with information regarding the incident.

Freshman LLC resident Alicia Burris said the fire alarm went off and students stood outside for 45 minutes to an hour before the building was opened. The Memorial Union was opened so students could take refuge, games and as a free breakfast were also provided. Around 9:30 a.m., the WUPD began escorting students back to their rooms for car keys and necessities. Burris said students were allowed back in their rooms around noon or 1 p.m., but were directed to stay away from the lobbies where the elevator went through.

“I thought [university officials] did a good job,” said Burris. “I thought it was nice that they let the cops take us back to our room to get keys and medicine.”

Burris also said it was nice that they opened up the building because many students did not take jackets or coats with them and the morning was cold.

Authorities are investigating the incident as a crime, and Residential Assistant Angel Romero said Residential Living has posted a $500 reward for “information leading to the adjudication of anyone involved.” No injuries have been reported at this time.

Romero said there have been incidents of students in the past melting elevator buttons with lighters so they are unusable. But no connection has been confirmed between those incidents and the Saturday morning fire.

The south elevator shaft also suffered damage from the fire that caused the sprinklers to go off and the smell of smoke to run throughout the building.

Jerry Farley, university president, even made an appearance to help students ease the woes of an eventful morning.

As for Romero, he’s just glad everyone is safe and made it out of the building OK.

“It just goes to show you never know when it’s going to be the real thing,” said Romero. “Everyone should always stay vigilant.”