Students were forced to evacuate Harbin Hall on Saturday night after a fire believed to be caused by mechanical problems broke out in the basement.

The evacuation began at approximately 7:35 p.m. and lasted roughly an hour while the D.C. Fire Department responded and inspected the building.

“One of the heating belts in the basement caught fire,” Department of Public Safety Officer Adrian Blackmon said.

“You could smell smoke in the stairwells,” said Matt Benton (MSB ’11), one of the evacuated students. “We realized it was serious when DPS made us move to the Village C patio.”

DPS officers at the scene cleared a wide radius around the building and prevented anyone from entering Harbin Patio.

One DPS officer told a crowd of students that university facilities stores chemicals in the basement of Harbin and that the fire department was concerned the chemicals might be flammable.

No reports have surfaced that the chemicals caught fire. Vice President for Facilities and Student Housing Karen Frank could not be reached for comment.

Stephanie Lynch, director of residence life, confirmed that the building did not suffer any structural damage.

“DPS, [the] fire department, residence life staff, and facilities staff all responded to the scene,” she said.

Seventh-floor resident Baxter Norcross (COL ’11) said that as she was evacuating the building, she smelled smoke on the fifth floor.

While firefighters did not tell residents anything about the source of the fire, “they announced that they were looking for the student guard that swipes people in,” Norcross said. It was unclear why they were looking for the guard.

Harbin Hall Director Lincois Anderson declined to comment.

Benton said Harbin residents have not been told any additional information about the fire.

A representative from the D.C. Fire Department said that due to the small size of the fire, there will not be an investigation. No report was filed with the fire department as of early this morning.

This article was originally posted at 11:55 p.m. April 5, 2008 and was last edited at 4:05 a.m. April 8, 2008.

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