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Washing machine triggers fire alarms in Lee and York House

Bella Montalvo

Staff Writer

View from outside the Lee & York Residence Hall where the washing machine incident occurred. Photo by Grace Shiffrin

On Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022 at 9:33 p.m., the fire alarm went off in the Lee and York dorms. Smoke began to leave the basement after a washing machine in the York laundry room was overloaded with clothing. The washing machine’s motor was strained, causing the motor to overheat and begin smoking. This was resolved by Campus Safety, who arrived shortly after the alarm was activated, by cutting the power to the motor. The fire department arrived at the York basement a few minutes after Campus Safety. Once a thorough inspection was completed by the fire department and confirmed by Campus Safety, students were given the go-ahead to re enter the dorms roughly 20-30 minutes after alarms went off, based on student accounts.

Josie Elicker (‘24), a resident of Lee who is now an artist for The Collegian but had not been hired at the time of the interview, said that the smoke in the halls “smelled like ramen,” but that it was not visible in the halls of the Lee dorm. Elicker said that she has asthma, which can be triggered by heavy smoke and unclean air. Elicker explained that “walking in through the York side was definitely a little hard to breathe on that side of the building,” but that once she reached her dorm and opened the windows, breathing became easier. Overall, she emphasized that it was no cause for concern. RA for York Hall, Cole Garber (‘23), confirmed that smoke was hardly visible in the halls and in the rooms but that the smell lingered until the morning. A sign saying “Please Don’t Touch” was placed on the washing machine that caused the smoke. Once this sign was made, the RAs of York and Lee felt comfortable with students using the other washer and dryers in the basement. Garber said that Campus Safety only gave them the all-clear to re-enter the building, but they did not say what caused the smoke. Garber explained that the information about the washer being the cause was disclosed to him by a witness account from one of the dorm residents.

Willamette has not released a response to the smoke. However, Ross Stout, the Director of Campus Safety, explained that the smoke was not an ongoing issue that was cause for concern. The smoke was caused by user error and the washing machine was quickly able to be disconnected in order to stop the smoke from progressing. Stout said the University would have made a response if the smoke had been the cause of more damage, an ongoing issue, or an unresolved or open-ended issue.

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