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Posted November 30, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Authorities looking for arsonist at SU

By Joe Beck

An early morning fire that authorities are treating as arson forced the evacuation of about 200 students from a dormitory at Shenandoah University in Winchester on Thursday.

University officials said Friday the fire was quickly contained, and no injuries were reported. They estimated the damage at $100.

An electronic newsletter sent by university officials to student, faculty and staff said Friday that the fire began on the third floor of the University Inn at 1460 University Drive.

Rhonda VanDyke Colby, vice president of student life, credited quick action by a resident student for extinguishing the fire before the heat could spread high enough toward the ceiling to activate the sprinkler system.

VanDyke Colby said the fire started on a bulletin board in a third floor hallway.

Authorities said the fire was set about 12:45 a.m., and alarms alerted students in their rooms. The Winchester Fire Department cleared smoke from the building. A subsequent investigation by the department and Frederick County fire marshal concluded that an arsonist started the fire, according to the newsletter. Authorities are offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to a conviction of anyone responsible for the crime.

VanDyke Colby said the students were led to adjacent buildings where they were "safe and warm" and they were allowed to return to their rooms about an hour later.

She said a recent fire drill helped students recognize what was happening when the alarm went off and contributed to an evacuation time of no more than three minutes for most of them.

"We can't get over how quickly the students got out," she said.

She also praised a resident assistant for quickly using a fire extinguisher to douse the fire. A resident assistant is an undergraduate student who lives in a dormitory and helps students with a wide range of topics that may include study habits, social involvement and cleanliness.

"He broke the glass on the fire extinguisher and completely deployed it," VanDyke Colby said. "The sprinkler system installed in the residence hall never even deployed because the heat didn't rise."

Anyone with information about who set the fire is asked to contact studentlife@su.edu, call 540-6654779 or stop by the Department of Public Safety at the north end of Armstrong Hall on the main campus.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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