On Sunday, May 14, a fire broke out at Middlebury College on the fifth floor of Gifford Hall, a student residence hall. The blaze led to minor water damage when it set off the building’s sprinkler system. No one was injured.
Gifford Hall, which houses 158 students, most of whom are sophomores and juniors, is located directly north of Mead Chapel on Hepburn Road off College Street (Route 125). The building is part of Wonnacott Commons, one of the five commons that make up Middlebury’s residential system.
According to Dean of the College Tim Spears, the fire began at about 9:30 p.m. in a student’s room when a burning candle ignited a tapestry hanging from the wall. The fire activated the building’s fire alarms and sprinkler systems, and students were evacuated. The Middlebury and Cornwall Fire Departments secured the building and contained the fire to the student’s room where it began. By 11:15 p.m., the fire departments returned oversight of the building to the college and the majority of students went back to their rooms.
Spears said that water and smoke damage appear to be light and that the college’s facilities services staff began cleaning immediately after the building was re-opened. By the time the sprinkler system shut off, water had seeped down to the fourth and third floors and into several other student rooms. As a result, 10 to 15 students were housed elsewhere on Sunday night. College officials expect these students to return to their rooms as early as today.
Gifford Hall was built in 1940 as a memorial to James M. Gifford, a trustee and benefactor of the college.