Before the emergency vehicles arrived on the scene, Marquette ’02 alumnus Nick Skiffington was driving down Clybourn Ave. when a construction worker running away from the site of the new Marquette Law School, Eckstein Hall, caught his eye. Then, Skiffington saw the flames shooting up behind the worker.
“I slammed on my brakes, and the guy behind me slammed on his,” Skiffington said, “It took me a second to grab my cell phone and call, but when I did, the lady said emergency vehicles were already on their way.”
Skiffington placed his phone call at 3:50 p.m. Emergency vehicles arrived at 3:51 p.m.
In the nearby academic buildings, evacuation did not start until approximately 4:10 p.m., according to Amanda Hein, a teaching assistant for a class held in David A. Straz, Jr. Hall. “Public Safety sent officers to evacuate the building floor by floor,” Hein said.
The Haggerty Museum of Art was fully evacuated, while Straz Hall, Gesu Parish and O’Hara Hall were only partially evacuated.
According to Brigid O’Brien Miller, Director of University Communication, Marquette University enacted the evacuation of the east campus buildings only as a safety precaution.
The fire started due to a ruptured vaporization line leading to one section of three interconnected 1,000-gallon propane tanks.
The propane gas within the tanks is a liquid at cold temperatures and needs to be heated to a gas by a vaporizer for use. When the vaporization line ruptured, the heat started the line on fire, which in turn started the tank on fire, according to Battalion Fire Chief Michael Labinski.
Approximately 1,900 gallons of propane were still in the three interconnected tanks, so the Milwaukee Fire Department had to wait for the gas to burn off, although the firefighters stayed busy by directing large amounts of water at the tanks to keep them cool.
“We’re just cooling the tanks… and letting it burn. We keep them cool so the tank doesn’t superheat and explode,” Labinski said. “This is a controlled situation.”
Six construction workers were on the scene at the time the fire started. According to Labinski, they were in the trailer, heard a hissing noise and came out to find the tank on fire. All six workers are safe and without injury.
Damage to the structure itself has yet to be determined, but due to its containment between two concrete walls in the basement of the building, it is expected to be minimal.
Because of the fire, Clybourn Ave. was closed from 11th to 13th streets, and classes in Straz Hall were cancelled for the rest of the night.
The most disappointing closing was the cancellation of Marquette University Chorus’ concert with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at Gesu that was co-sponsored by Marquette University and Gesu Parish.
“Marquette University called us and decided to cancel the concert,” said Margi Horner, Director of Liturgy at Gesu. “We did not make the decision.”
MU Chorus member Christine Kehl was disappointed not to be able to perform but said that the concert will be rescheduled.