Arson is suspected as the cause of the fire on eighth floor Stavig Hall on Monday, Sept. 4, according to Hall Director D’Lisa McKenzie, who spoke to the fire marshall on the scene.
The fire rousted 200 weary students out of their beds at 3:10 a.m. and forced them to stand in the rain for nearly two hours while the building was secured from damage.
“We believe it was set by two male non-students visiting two female students,” said Steve Nix, head of Campus Safety. “The investigation has been turned over to the Sioux Falls Police Department.”
The names of the female students and the two males suspected in the arson have not been released.
Less than a day after the fire, signs were posted in Stavig offering a $100 reward for information leading to the identity of those involved. The reward was authorized by Tracy Riddle, associate dean for student services, and Jim Bies, vice president for student services, and will come out of the student services budget. According to McKenzie, a student has already come forward with information.
“I don’t know if it was accidental, like if somebody just flipped their cigarette into the garbage, or if it was intentional, but it does seem to be started by the hands of an individual,” McKenzie said. “I hope there is justice done. Roughly 200 lives were at risk, and I get pretty upset when something like that happens.”
The night of the fire, eighth floor Peer Advisor Sabrina Stoffer had just gone to bed at 2 a.m.
“The alarm woke me up, and I got on my shoes to go get everybody up,” Stoffer said. “At first I thought it was a prank, that somebody pulled the alarm. I was out in the hallway, and this other girl and I looked at each other and at the same time looked at the garbage room. There was an orange glow inside and I thought, oh my God it’s real.”
Stoffer hurried to get the rest of the students down the stairs. As she was going down, Campus Safety Officer Arlyne Ellifson was on his way up.
“He got the fire extinguisher and put it out before the firemen got there,” McKenzie said. “He was great. He was so calm. I was on the phone talking to Campus Safety and he was already in the building.”
Outside the students shivered in the rain. The fire trucks arrived, and the firemen replaced the burned out heat sensor that triggered the alarm. Dain Swanson, a peer advisor from Tuve Hall, was offering sleeping space for those who didn’t want to wait for the firemen to let them back into their rooms.