Bakersfield, CA – Sprinklers activated after early morning fire in residence hall; No injuries reported

A student was arrested by university police at 5 a.m. Saturday after starting a fire in Juniper Hall that same morning. No students were injured during the incident or evacuation.

Students were forced to evacuate and stand in the cold for over an hour while Bakersfield Fire Department swept the building and made sure it was safe for students to return.

According to a press release from CSUB director of communications Michael Lukens, at approximately 3:10 a.m. on Saturday morning, university police received a fire and water flow alarm at Student Housing East.

Upon their arrival students were evacuating the buildings, and officers “located smoke in one of the buildings and a fire sprinkler was activated.,” according to the press release.

Bakersfield Fire responded and the source of the fire was already extinguished.

Bakersfield Fire assisted with removing as much of the water as they could during their clean up. There was water damage to the building.”

Freshman Jaime Cortez, an art major, was asleep in his room on the third floor of Juniper Hall when the alarm went off.

“I was asleep, and my roommates, they were telling me like we have to evacuate, at first I thought they were just messing around, but then when I woke up they were actually like serious, so we all had to evacuate,” said Cortez.

The press release states that in the course of their investigation, UPD determined that “the source of the fire appears to be an arson. Also, UPD determined that a domestic violence incident occurred during this incident also. Thus far, one person has been arrested for domestic violence and the case is being finalized for a complaint. The arson case is an ongoing investigation.”

Gilford has already made bail and the complaints are continuing to be completed by the Bakersfield Police Department.

“What I heard is that there’s been a fire that happened on the first floor, and I think a girl [was] trying to burn her boyfriend’s pants, like she lit them on fire, and I guess that’s what caused the scene of the fire, that’s what I’m hearing,” said Cortez.

“If, hypothetically, somebody set fire to somebody else’s property and it led to thousands of dollars of damage, it is likely that they would be not only be removed from the facility, but their student status at CSUB would be highly under question. Is it likely that they could face some sort of penalty like suspension or expulsion from school? That’s possible… I can tell you that there have been actions taken,” said Crystal Becks, Director of Student Housing at CSUB.

While she would not comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation, Becks did express how grateful she was that everything worked the way it was intended.

“One of the things that i’m really happy about in this situation is that everything worked the way that it was supposed to. If the sprinkler hadn’t gone off in the closet, it probably wouldn’t have been the whole building, because we have sprinklers in each room, but at the very minimum it would have been a room gone, more furniture, more peoples belongings, more water damage,” said Beck.

“When I think of scenarios from A-Z, Z being the worst, a building goes or peoples lives are taken, that’s the Z, we are somewhere between A, B, and C, we were that fortunate because every system worked the way that it was supposed to.”

As for the aftermath, there is now work to be done. Beck estimates that the building suffered several thousands of dollars worth of water damage across the four rooms and one hallway that were directly affected.

“It like peeling back layers of an onion,” says Beck of the growing repair costs. Beck estimates that five to six students’ rooms were directly affected by water damage.

“All of the students are able to return to their rooms, except for the people who were in that suite [where the sprinkler went off]. But we have also offered for them to move elsewhere so they don’t have to deal with the chaos of the repairs. And we’re in the process of working through those individuals, because some people actually want to stay where they are, but we want them to not have to deal with noise and dust and all the stuff that’s going to come with that,” said Beck.

And as for any personal property damage that occurred during this incident, students may be on their own.

“There is no way that there were students who didn’t have stuff damaged. There had to have been some damage, I don’t know specifically what at this point, because students are still notifying us,” said Beck.

“For the students who have renters insurance, it’s going to be real easy. For the students who don’t have renters insurance, it’s going to be more complicated, because if it is determined that [the fire] was set by an individual, then they will have to pursue that person civilly, the university won’t be responsible,” said Beck.

One lesson that Beck hopes everyone takes away from this incident is that when you hear the fire alarm, evacuate the building.

“When a student hears that alarm, they don’t know if its a drill, or if its real, and it just illustrates that it’s really really important, when you hear the alarm, whether you know its a drill or not, it’s important to leave. And for the most part students were very compliant, [but] some of them weren’t sure and they stayed,” said Beck.

Freshman Jamie Nupkese was one of those students. “Me and my roommate we just woke up, at first we kinda went back to sleep because we thought it was a false alarm, so it was just like whatever, but then it kept going on, so everyone in the dorm, we just went outside, and then we went downstairs,” said Nupkese.

“As the director of housing, that terrifies me because things can be replaced, people can’t. So that is the piece about this that as a team we are trying to figure out the most, how doe we drive that home. When you hear the alarm, that means your life is in jeopardy,” said Nupkese.

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