Arsonists caused serious panic this morning after a fire was started in the John Galsworthy building, causing the entire building to be evacuated.
The fire, which broke out at around 10.30am on the second floor of the building, left students complaining of smoke inhalation as well as causing ‘significant damage’ to one classroom, although no-one was injured.
Firefighters and university staff believe that it was started deliberately. An unnamed university source said that it was started when the room’s telephone and some surrounding books were set alight.
Dave Englefield, watch manager at Surbiton fire station, said: “It was arson. Someone set fire to stuff and the police will have to investigate.”
Hundreds of panicked students, alerted by fire alarms and by security staff, flooded down the buildings crowded main stairwell before congregating in the courtyard outside.
Mary Braid, a lecturer who was teaching on the same corridor, said: “All of a sudden we heard a man shouting ‘It’s a fire. It’s a real fire. This was before the alarms had gone off. We went into the corridor to have a look and there was lots of black smoke.
“On the way out I saw a security guard with a fire extinguisher. It looked like he was trying to put it out without opening the door too much. Then I saw another student with more fire extinguishers.”
Although no-one was hurt, concerns have been raised about the alarm systems in the £20m building. It seems that the fire alarms did not go off until after students had started to evacuate the building.
First year student Ryan Rocastle was on the second floor when the building was evacuated. He said: “The fire alarms didn’t go off until about three or four minutes after we heard there was a fire. They only went off when we were walking down the stairs.
“We were lucky to get out when we did because it looked like it was getting worse.”
The university have yet to comment on why alarms had not gone off even though students on the second floor had already started to leave the building. They said: “Once the Fire Service has finished making the building safe we will be able to review the incident and assess the damage.”
University Health and Safety manager Ian Appleford said: “There has been a fire and it was started deliberately.
“No-one was injured and security procedures were followed effectively.
“Emergency services attended quickly and the police have been informed.”
Associate dean Clarissa Wilks said that the building will be closed for the rest of the day.
Security are collecting any possessions that have been left in the building, and are requesting anyone who did leave items behind to leave their details at the front desk.