Laboratory fire forces evacuation of Australian National University

Friday, August 5, 2005

Canberra, Australia

An explosion and subsequent chemical fire at the Australian National University this afternoon caused an estimated AU$1 million in damage and forced the evacuation of most of the main campus.

The initial explosion occurred on the top floor of the Research School of Chemistry in the early afternoon, and caused a fire which quickly spread throughout the rest of the floor. While no one was injured, the Brisbane Courier-Mail is reporting "widespread damage" to the laboratories. Furthermore, a number of computers containing postgraduate student theses were destroyed, causing the loss of months of work.

As the fire spread a cloud of potentially toxic smoke formed. A large number of fire personnel were called to the site and police, with limited success, attempted to cordon off access to the university.

Buildings downwind were progressively evacuated, including the central union building and students association at approximately 3pm.

Students in the buildings were asked to leave the campus entirely. There was a great deal of confusion afterwards. Police were able to clear the buildings successfully, but had some difficulty evacuating those who were already outside.

The university sent an email message giving a brief explanation of the situation at around the same time, but this did not reach most students immediately, leading to widespread confusion as to what exactly was going on.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Lawrence Cram sent an follow-up email to the students at approximately 3.30 p.m. stating that the fire was under control and suggesting that the students in the affected areas should go home.

There were reports of activities being cancelled at the other end of the campus late into the afternoon.

While the remainder of the university will reopen Saturday, it is not currently known when the Research School will reopen, or just how severely the fire will affect ongoing academic programs at the university.


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.