The University's Statistics and Mathematics Building caught fire on a windy Tuesday evening at about 5:50 p.m. No one was in the building at the time, according to a firefighter at the scene.
One firefighter was hospitalized for being hit by falling debris, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Langford said. He was treated and released at the University Medical Center, according to Medical Center Spokesman John Easton, as quoted in a University press release.
The cause is under investigation by the fire department, according to the release, which noted no other structures were damaged.
The fire, which witnesses said started on the top floor and engulfed parts of the building’s roof for a time, persisted for an hour-and-a-half as firefighters from several ladder and engine companies worked to extinguish it, often with a large crowd watching from nearby.
“It was a spectacular blaze,” said third-year Kyle Shymanik, who saw the fire from his fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi, a few buildings south of MathStat. “The entire top story was just a roaring fire. I’m really impressed by the job the [the fireman] did, when you’re contending with these winds.”
Firefighters were on the roof by 7:30, inspecting the damage.
More than 10 emergency trucks were on the scene along with smaller support vehicles, taking up the whole of University Avenue between 57th and 58th streets as well as much of 57th street near University and other nearby streets. Three or four Alpha Delta Phi brothers helped a fireman set up a hose, according to Shymanik and another brother.
The building, located at 5727 S. University Avenue, has been under renovation since the summer. The renovation is meant to adapt the building to include the Stevanovich Center for Financial Mathematics.
The fire came on one of the windiest days in recent history, with gusts reaching 60 mph, according to Weather.com.
“It was brutal,” Gwen Webb said of the fire.
A front desk coordinator at the Quadrangle Club, just north of the building, Webb watched the fire burning with a number of other employees. She noted that the wind seemed to make fighting the fire difficult. “It must have started and stopped a few times,” she said.
Smoke billowed from an open flame on the roof of the building, according to pictures taken by second-year Eran Flicker soon after the blaze began, and he said sparks were flying from the windows.
Leigh Richie, Web coordinator for the Black Youth Project, said she called 911 at 5:51 p.m. after smelling smoke from her workplace, the University’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at 5733 South University Avenue. The Center, which is on the same block as the Statistics and Mathematics Building, was smoky half an hour after the fire began.
The smoke at first didn't seem to draw much attention, Richie said. The fire department then entered through the back of the building, at which point the smoke increased considerably, making the air in the area hazy and acrid-smelling. First-year chemistry graduate student Kin Yang said he smelled smoke on 57th Street and Blackstone Avenue.
A crowd soon formed, including television camera crews and a number of amateur photographers wielding camera phones and digital cameras.
Looking for a view of the fire, students ran through Eckhart Hall, which sits across the street from the Mathematics and Statistics building and houses the Statistics Department and part of the Mathematics Department.
Shawn Drenning, a sixth-year mathematics graduate student, was in an Eckhart classroom at 6:58 p.m., about to start a problem session for MATH 19500, with flames still visible across the street and some students peering through the room’s windows.
“It’s not a nice building,” said Drenning, who had an office there for 3 years, before construction began. “They’re trying to make it nice.”
But fourth-year Sarah Armstrong, who saw the fire from across the street in the McCormick Tribune lounge soon after it started, called it “a lovely building” based on a visit her first year.
“I don’t want this building to burn down,” Armstrong joked. “Burn down Pierce or something.”
With parts of 57th Street and University Avenue blocked off by emergency vehicles, shuttle bus service was rerouted. It has returned to its normal service.
-additional reporting by Adam Janofsky