UW-L dorm fire forces students to evacuate

LA CROSSE, Wis. — A fire forced nearly 300 students at UW-La Crosse out of their dorm rooms Sunday morning.

No one was injured, but it could be days before Drake Hall residents can get back into their own rooms.

Before Drake Hall resident Benji Kurtz went to bed, he set his alarm clock for noon. So what was that loud noise at 4:30 in the morning?

“In those little rooms it’s so loud. It was almost painfully loud,” said Kurtz.

As the fire alarm sounded in Drake Hall, students like Jessica Kallas scrambled for the essentials before heading out in the snow.

“I put pants on. My roommate didn’t. But my first thought was pants, phone, pants, pants, phone, pants. Boots!” said Kallas.

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“I had my jacket on but no shirt on under it, so it was really cold outside,” said Kurtz.

At first, the students weren’t sure whether the fire alarm was for real.

“From grade school, I have never taken a fire alarm seriously. I’ve always been prepared for them because, you know, what if? But I don’t think a lot of people take them seriously,” said Kallas.

But when they got outside and saw the flames coming from the basement, they knew this was no drill.

“At 4:30 in the morning, they certainly took this one seriously. Yes, there are false alarms sometimes caused by various things. It could be burnt toast…. When it happens for real, you’ve got to be prepared to do the right thing, and our students seem to have done that,” said UW-L Police Chief Scott Rohde.

Kurtz said, when he saw the flames, there was just one thing on his mind.

“I hope I get my stuff back. Because I don’t have anything else that’s not in that dorm. That’s like my life savings pretty much, and everything I own,” said Kurtz.

Luckily, the fire was contained to the basement. Authorities believe it started in a recreation room.

Residents were relocated to the Recreational Eagle Center for the day.

Students were escorted back into their rooms one-by-one to pick up critical items like medication. Kallas was able to grab her allergy meds and a few other essentials.

“Toothbrush. Please God, toothbrush,” said Kallas.

In the meantime, Kurtz just wishes he could get his textbooks.

“I had a lot of homework. I always put off my homework until today. And I was planning on sleeping in, waking up nice and refreshed,” said Kurtz.

Until further notice, Drake Hall residents will either be staying with friends or in other residence halls.

Investigators are still looking into the cause of the fire, although they said it may have started on a couch in the basement’s recreation room. The basement has extensive water and smoke damage.