Strathclyde University is plunged into chaos after ‘explosive’ campus blaze

Firefighters investigating the site of the fire. Picture: Robert Perry
Firefighters investigating the site of the fire. Picture: Robert Perry
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HUNDREDS of students at a flagship faculty in one of Scotland’s biggest universities face indefinite disruption to their courses after a fire ripped through a city centre campus.

Engineering lectures and seminars at the University of Strathclyde have been postponed following the blaze on Tuesday evening at the James Weir building in Glasgow’s Montrose Street. The student who reported the fire told The Scotsman yesterday he feared there would be a “large explosion,” given that it broke out in a department containing laboratories with hazardous chemicals.

Charandeep Singh, president of the university’s student association, added that he did not anticipate undergraduates would be back in the building “any time soon,” describing the damage as “severe”.

Strathclyde Fire and Rescue (SFR) were yesterday carrying out investigations into the cause of the fire and establishing the safety of the six-storey structure. It is believed the fire broke out on the third floor shortly after 7:15pm on Tuesday, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate the building and the nearby student union, Thomas Graham building, and Royal College building.

No-one was injured, but it took more than 50 firefighters three-and-a-half hours to extinguish the blaze, an operation complicated by the presence of solvents and acids in chemistry labs.

The university, which is aiming to become a leader of technological research, has cancelled all classes in the James Weir building for the rest of the week, affecting hundreds of engineering, mechanics, and electronics students. Scores of prospective students due to attend interviews at the engineering faculty yesterday were also told that these would be rescheduled.

It remained unclear last night when the building would reopen, if at all, with reports that the fourth storey has suffered structural damage, with extensive fire, smoke and water damage to other floors.

The building has six lecture theatres, capable of accommodating a total of 785 students, as well as ten seminar and interactive rooms, which can house an additional 587 people.

The university’s emergency management team convened yesterday and is making plans for alternative accommodation for affected classes, but no timetable is in place. A spokeswoman for the institution said: “It’s just to early to say when classes might resume. The fire service have been with us to start their investigation, assess damage, and identify what the cause of the fire may have been. At this stage, we can’t speculate I’m afraid.”

Mr Singh, who witnessed the fire taking hold, said: “I was working late in the office and around 7:10pm I could smell burning. I assumed it was a candle, but I saw a room in the James Weir on fire. It took me a couple of seconds to make sure it was a fire, and not some kind of experiment.

“I immediately called the fire brigade and some other students with me contacted the union security to arrange an evacuation of about 150 students.

“Because there was potential chemicals there, there was a fear that there could be a large explosion.”