Series of overnight fires on URI campus being investigated

University of Rhode Island Police car
(WPRI-TV)

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – The University of Rhode Island police department and the Rhode Island state fire marshal’s office are investigating a series of small fires on campus overnight Saturday.

According to a release from the university, early indications show the fires were intentionally set between Saturday night and Sunday morning inside the university’s Hillside Hall.

No one was injured as a result of the fires, but the building with about 800 beds had to be evacuated twice overnight.

Both incidents involved burning toilet paper or paper towels, and a trash can in one men’s bathroom.

The first fire occurred around 8:40 p.m. Saturday night when residents smelled smoke on the fifth floor.

“It smelled like a campfire everywhere,” says Freshman Olivia Stone. “That’s not the usual smell in the hall.”

Resident assistants in Hillside Hall put out the fire and called URI police who advised them to pull the manual fire alarm.

While the state fire marshal’s office and URI police investigated this fire, another fire sparked in the same fifth floor bathroom around midnight. This fire triggered both the sprinkler system and the automated fire alarm system.

“All the alarms just went off,” says Freshman Justin Trickett. “All the RA’s were going crazy knocking on our doors, telling us to get out of there as fast as possible.”

URI’s Office of Housing Residential Life is providing support to students who need assistance following these incidents, including the residents of four rooms on the fourth and fifth floors which were affected by water damage from the sprinkler system which went off following the second fire. Those students have been relocated.

“Our carpet was soaked, there was flooding everywhere, and there was ash, like black soot all over our floor,” says Freshman Samantha Schaller.

Students were left wondering Sunday why anyone would intentionally set fires in their dorm.

“A lot of people were saying it might have just been a joke, but I don’t get why that’s funny,” says Stone.

“I just don’t get it,” added Trickett. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The release urges students to be vigilant and report any immediate threat or suspicious activity to URI police at 401-874-2121.

University police and the state fire marshal’s office strongly encourage those with information about these fires to contact the University Police Department’s confidential tip line, 401-874-TIPS, or up to a $5,000 reward may be available through the State Fire Marshal’s Arson Watch reward program by contacting 401-383-7723.