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Fire in University Apartments alarms many tenants, but none hurt

By Jennifer Riley

Sept. 25, 2003 9:00 p.m.

At least five fire trucks arrived at 475 Gayley on Wednesday
evening in response to a fire alarm at the University Apartments,
according to witnesses at the scene of the fire.

There were no injuries, but fire and water damage left charred
walls and flooded floors.

Some witnesses said they believed the flames were a result of a
malfunctioning oven that caught fire in a first-floor apartment
around 6 p.m., a cause that authorities have not confirmed.

Jennifer Wardley, a third-year psychology student, said the fire
began when she was cooking burritos in the oven of her first floor
apartment.

In response to smelling gas, Wardley turned off the oven and
turned on the kitchen fan.

Moments later, the presence of black smoke led her to report the
malfunction and pull the fire alarm.

The fire department was called at 6:13 p.m., and at 6:23 p.m.
the fire fighting crew was dispatched, according to Jim Wells of
the Los Angeles Fire Department.

By the time Wardley reported the problem, a fire had started.
Mark Brook, a neighboring tenant and third-year student, said he
smelled smoke and discovered the flames.

Brook recalled that because there was no hammer near the fire
extinguisher’s glass casing ““ a guest resident used his
elbow to break through the glass.

“We grabbed a fire extinguisher, but that didn’t
help much,” Brook said.

Shortly after the alarm sounded, all residents had evacuated and
were waiting outside for the fire department to douse the flames
and clear the smoke.

Apartment Coordinator Natasha Fewkes explained that the
evacuation was orderly and went according to plan.

But Geoff Parker, a third-floor resident, said many tenants
mistook the alarm for a drill.

“When we all finally got outside, it was about 10 minutes
before the fire department got here,” he said.

Once evacuated, witnesses said it took about three hours before
residents were allowed to return to their rooms.

Jessica Burgo, another tenant, said there was some traffic on
Gayley Avenue while the fire department closed off a portion of the
street.

Nancy Greenstein, director of community services for university
police, said the UCPD helped control the traffic.

Wardley said the timing of the fire was inconvenient, since it
was the night before school started.

She and her two roommates stayed in the UCLA Guest House
Wednesday night, and are staying at a nearby hotel until Sept. 29,
when their apartment will be ready for living.

As of Thursday afternoon, the apartment’s oven had been
removed, along with carpeting saturated by sprinkler water.

“I was scared last night, but I feel fine now,”
Wardley said. “I’m just glad that no one got
hurt.”

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