Four students were taken to Powell Hospital after a fire in a Northwest College dormitory Tuesday afternoon.
Because of smoke, water and fire damage to Bridger Hall, officials think the dorm may not reopen for the rest of the school year, said NWC administrator Mark Kitchen. In the short-term, students will stay on campus in Trapper Gym and other residence halls or off campus with friends and family.
Kitchen, NWC's Dean of College Relations and Development, said that he did not think there had been a fire of this magnitude on campus in the school's history.
The students were taken to Powell Hospital for difficulties related to smoke. One student with asthma was expected to stay overnight for observation, Kitchen said. The others were treated and released in the early evening, Kitchen said.
President Miles LaRowe will lead an all-campus meeting at noon today in Room 70 of the Fagerberg Building.
"Considering what could have happened, we have so much to be grateful for," Student Senate President Matt Falber said. "It could have turned out to be really bad."
The fire apparently started in a room on the second floor, Kitchen said. The local fire marshal was on the scene Tuesday and state authorities were expected to arrive Wednesday and begin an investigation. Powell fire officials were not available for comment Tuesday. Volunteers from Cody, about 20 miles away, also responded.
Kitchen did not know how many students were evacuated from the two-story dorm when the fire was reported around 3:30 p.m. There are about 120 students living in Bridger Hall this semester, he said. As a safety precaution, students in nearby Colter Hall were also evacuated, Kitchen said. About 44 students reside in Colter. There are four dorms on campus and the Trapper Village Apartment Complexes which provides apartments for families, married students and theme houses for eligible single students.
Bridger Hall has room for more than 130 students, Kitchen said. He believed the building, located on the edge of campus along Bernard Street, was built in 1968.
Most classes were expected to resume today.
Reporters and photographers from the student newspaper, Northwest Trail, covered the fire and produced a special edition Tuesday night. The college updated its Web site throughout the evening with information about the fire and services for students, including counseling.
The campus distributed toiletry bags for displaced students Tuesday and clothing donations were coming into the college and available at a church near campus. Donations came from students, Powell-area residents and local businesses ranging from big box stores to soda distributors.
Falber, the student leader, said the outpouring of support from campus and the community was incredible. With about 1,500 students, the campus is close-knit, he said.
"Students were helping like mad," he said. "Everywhere you go, people are asking 'What can we do to help?' It's been tremendous."
A sound system was quickly set up and bottles of water were brought in. Soon after, blankets, sheets and pillows from NWC's Residential Life department were available. The support system was established "like clockwork," he said.
"Things had come together so quickly," he said. "Everybody really came together in a giant act of solidarity."
Kitchen said the campus initiated its crisis plan and the county set up a command center.
"We are dealing the very best way we can at the minute," he said.
Students organized movies in the gym and other activities, but emotions were showing.
"You can tell who the people are who were in those halls," he said. "This is just the beginning. There are a lot more things to do and it's going to sink in for the students."
Students lost essential belongings, like clothes and medications, creature comforts ranging from CD players to guitars to computers, and they likely lost school work and books.
"Who knows how much damage has been done to the stuff that's in that building," Falber said. "Just about everybody in there is probably looking at having to start over."
On the heels of news that state funding was short, Falber said NWC will also have to rebound from the fire. The college has invested in student housing and a fifth dorm, Lewis and Clark Hall, is scheduled to open next school year, he said.
"(NWC) has been pouring money into the other hall with the hopes of opening five residence halls," he said. "They just lowered housing rates and were really banking on the success of the five halls. It's going to hurt them to have just four halls."