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Within minutes, the small dorm room on Georgia Southern University’s campus went up in flames Wednesday. The blaze flickered slowly at first, licking at the furniture and curtains before roaring to life, crackling loudly as it consumed the small square structure. Within just a few minutes, all that was left was a blackened frame and the charred remains of the room’s contents.
Fortunately, the burned structure was only a mock dorm room, built to burn as an example of just how quickly disaster can strike.
The exercise was part of a demonstration Wednesday afternoon to educate students about the dangers of fire, said GSU spokesman Christian Flathman.
The burn exercise was conducted by GSU and public safety officials from the Statesboro Fire Department, Statesboro Police, Bulloch County chapter of the American red Cross and University Police, he said.
A second unit, identical to the first but equipped with a smoke alarm and sprinkler system, fared much better. After the flames were ignited, the sprinklers doused them quickly and there was minimal damage to the fake dorm room.
The mock burn was a first for the university, and kicks off National Campus Fire Safety Month in September, he said.
A crowd of students gathered in a grassy lot around 7 p.m. Wednesday, waiting to see what happened after firefighters ignited the mock dorm rooms. Usually such fires are caused by unattended candles or cooking gone awry, but in the exercise, the firefighter just flicked a lighter and held it to a flammable surface.
A plume of smoke rose, wafting away in the wind, barely visible for a moment. Then, the flames took hold and seemed to explode with wild abandon, devouring all in its path. Black smoke spiraled upward and heat waves shimmered. The heat could be felt from yards away as the blaze charred the unit, fully engulfed within a couple minutes.
Firefighters quickly doused the blaze, but even responding from yards away, it was obvious that within the time between a call being made and arrival of the fire trucks, much damage and loss can occur in cases of fire.
As the second unit was set ablaze, it was poignantly obvious that smoke alarms and sprinkler systems can not only prevent a total loss of structure and property, they can also save lives.
“Living on-campus is one of the most rewarding experiences for a student, but it can also be one of the most dangerous when it comes to the potential for fire,” said Carolyn Burrell, director of residential education at Georgia Southern University. “This demonstration is designed to educate students about fire safety procedures to avoid any potential issues in their residence halls or apartments.
Before the burn exercise, the crowd of students was mostly jovial, with some students being so rowdy police were forced to reprimand them. However, there was an air of solemnity afterward, with the facial expressions of some students revealing the fact that they were considering the lesson learned from the mock burn.
“It made me think about responsibility,” said Kim Ryan, a GSU student from Decatur. She has never had any experience with a structure fire, and the event “ made me think.”
She and another student, a friend, were inspired by the event to join the Red Cross as volunteers, she said.
Another student who said his name was Mike Smith, also from Decatur, said the burn was an eye-opening experience.
“It was interesting,” he said. “It made me think.”
Derek Stoddard was one of several Statesboro Firefighters on standby for the exercise.
“This definitely put into students’ minds what can happen if a fire starts in their dorm room,” he said. “You can tell people all day long, but when they see it in action, it really hits home.”
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.