Sprinkler system at UW-La Crosse stops fire at Eagle Hall: minor water damage

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) -- -  A fire broke out at UW-La Crosse on Thursday night. La Crosse Fire Department officials said they believe a fan malfunctioned on the first floor of Eagle Hall setting the carpet on fire. 

"Luckily, there was a sprinkler head right above the device that malfunctioned," said Battalion Chief Tom Wallerich, of the La Crosse Fire Department. "(The fan) was actually melted into the carpet." 

Assistant director of residence life Lisa Weston said UWL is no stranger to fire. 

"It wasn't that long ago that we had a fire in a residence hall and it displaced students for an entire semester," Weston said.  

The 2012 Drake Hall fire forced the campus to relocate 300 students and had to shut down the building for months. The facility didn't have sprinklers. 

"When the Drake fire occurred, we got creative," Weston said. "A lot of other students on campus opened up their doors to take an additional roommate. We allowed students to cancel their contracts at the time if they wanted to move off campus. We were able to accommodate all of the students at that time." 

This time, a little water damage was the only consequence. 

"We just had probably 2 to 3 inches of water, just on this one section of the first floor of Eagle Hall," Weston said. "We are fortunate the fire damage was very minimal." 

Staff and students worked through the night to clean up the aftermath. 

"There were probably 40 bodies here last night just moving stuff and all working around each other and using their muscles," Weston said. "It was really helpful." 

A sprinkler system for a building the size of Eagle Hall is about $100,000, but it's less than 1 percent of the building's total cost ($39 million). The system likely saved millions. 

"It reinforces the importance of sprinkler heads in dormitories," Wallerich said. 

When school is in session, Weston said the hall will be ready for a new class of students. 

"We hope, within a week, that we should be pretty good to go," Weston said. 

University officials said they recommend students get renters insurance or use their parents' homeowners insurance to protect their belongings in case they are damaged in a fire. 

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