By Olivia Winslow
Newsday (New York)
Copyright 2006 Newsday, Inc.
Authorities were investigating a suspicious fire that broke out about noon yesterday in an apartment complex for graduate students at Stony Brook University, displacing several residents.
Four firefighters suffered minor injuries — first-degree burns, a twisted ankle, heat exhaustion and an electrical shock — in the blaze. But no residents of Building J in the Chapin Apartments complex were injured, officials said.
"Campus residence hall staff had people out [of the building] already" by the time university police arrived a few minutes after the alarm went off about 11:53 a.m., said Douglas Little, assistant chief of university police. Some graduate and medical school students live in the complex with spouses and children, a spokesman said.
Little added that the building's fire alarm system, which includes sprinklers, activated.
Setauket Fire Chief Paul DiBiase said the cause of the blaze was under investigation by the arson squads of the Suffolk County Police Department and the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
"There is something in the back that doesn't look kosher," DiBiase said, describing mattresses he said were propped outside the building. He said it looks as if flames traveled from the mattresses up a wall.
Little said that while "I don't have much information ... it does appear it's of suspicious origin." He added there hasn't been a major structural fire on campus in several years.
In addition to Setauket, the fire departments in Stony Brook, St. James, Centereach, Selden, Terryville and Port Jefferson were called in to assist. DiBiase said the fire was extinguished about 2:55 p.m.
University spokesman Patrick Calabria said six of the 17 apartments in Building J were extensively damaged, forcing 17 residents to relocate. He added that 67 people were temporarily evacuated, but those who lived in the unaffected apartments could return to them, possibly by today.
As he waited outside an office to hear whether he would be relocated, Nam Nguyen, 27, of Vietnam, said he was on another part of campus when his roommate called. "He said, 'There's a fire in our building, but our apartment is still fine.'"
Nguyen, a graduate student studying economics, said he had not been allowed into the apartment, however, and wasn't sure whether it had been spared.