Fraternity house evacuated after fire

By Lindsay Carroll

A fire at an off-campus fraternity left eight members of Pi Lambda Phi without a home last… A fire at an off-campus fraternity left eight members of Pi Lambda Phi without a home last night.

All six residents who were inside the house, located at 225 N. Dithridge St., got out safely.

“I couldn’t see anything,” said Pitt student Xi Fu about escaping the house through the smoke. “I couldn’t even see my feet.”

Police detective John Gilkey, who headed the arson investigation, said the fire was accidental. As of press time, the cause was not yet determined.

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The fire started in Pitt student John Connors’ second floor bedroom on the right side of the house Wednesday around 9:25 p.m., Fu said.

Fu was watching “Lost” in his bedroom across from Connors’ when the smoke alarm went off.

He said he thought the smell was from cigarette smoke, but when he looked across the hall, he saw smoke coming out from under the door.

Fu started yelling for everyone to get out of the house. He and a friend got a bucket of water and tried to kick the door open to put out the fire.

Meanwhile, fraternity president Tom Cole called 911.

Fu and three of his housemates, Alex Owens, Luke Miller and Cole tried to get the door to Connors’ room open, but they couldn’t kick it down. Fu put water on a T-shirt and put it over his face to keep the smoke out.

When Fu got out of his room, Cole, Miller and Owens had gotten the door to Connors’ room open and smoke began to pour out, Fu said.

Everything went pitch black, he added.

The four fraternity brothers ran out of the house and firefighters responded within five or 10 minutes, said Cole.

Cole said the firefighters broke the window to Connors’ room and flames started to pour out. Once they had extinguished the fire, the black, sooty guts of Connors’ bedroom could be seen from the street, lit up by the flashlights of firefighters who were investigating.

Roy McDonald, the city’s second district battalion fire chief, said that “too many things” could have caused the fire. Similar fires are caused by space heaters, cigarettes and extension cords, he said.

Todd Mazzie, a Pi Lambda Phi senior, said he had been performing in a play when one of his fraternity brothers called him about the house.

When he got to Dithridge Street, he said he saw the road flooded with fire trucks and police vehicles. Then, he saw a firefighter walking out of the house — with his cat.

“I ran up and just hugged my cat,” he said. A few minutes later, another cat was rescued.

Fu said the fraternity has had the house since 1922 and that its chapter is the oldest in the nation for the fraternity. The fraternity is no longer officially affiliated with Pitt.

“We were on track to get reaffiliated with Pitt,” said Fu. “Everything was looking up until this happened.”

Craig Draper, a freshman who was at Hillman Library at the time of the fire, was able to see his room as firefighters escorted the brothers into the house one by one to get any possessions not damaged by the fire.

“Everything’s black with soot,” said Draper, who lives on the third floor. “All my clothes are ruined.”

He said there is water damage on the first floor and smoke damage on the third floor. He was not able to go into the second floor of the house because of the investigation.

Cole said that the house residents will stay with other fraternity brothers or friends until they find out if they can move back into the house.

Fu said he didn’t realize how frightening the situation was.

“I didn’t get time to think about how scary it was,” said Fu. “Now that I think about it, it’s quite bad.”

Connors declined to comment about the incident.