Rumors about Monday fire in Hugel Science Center were ‘unfounded,’ Public Safety says

Emma Chen, Assistant News Editor

Lafayette students watched as white clouds emerged from Hugel Science Center on Monday. Rumors about Hugel in flames spread rapidly, but according to Director of Public Safety Jeff Troxell, such fears were unfounded. 

Troxell explained that there was never a fire in or around the building. It was actually just large amounts of steam due to a release valve going off.

“There is, in the mechanical space, a pressure relief valve that leaks, so sometimes I think when the pressure relief valve goes off, that lets off a ton of steam in the room and activates the smoke detector,” Troxell said.

He noted that this was a typical mechanical operation that should be expected in changing weather conditions.

“So as we transition from warmer weather to cooler weather and we switch the steam, that sometimes happens,” Troxell said. “But it’s a normal mechanical operation, it’s kind of like steam from a shower, but it was in mechanical space.”

Meredith Forman ‘24 was one of the first students to see the steam and called the non-emergency Public Safety (PSAFE) line in order to let them know of the situation. At the time, Forman assumed that there was a fire in Hugel.

“I was driving by Hugel and I saw what looked like smoke coming from the top of the building, so I called the PSAFE non-emergency line because I didn’t know if it’s exhaust or smoke, but something was coming from the top,” Forman said. 

Forman explained that she did not hear much about it after her call, but started worrying once she saw the chaos on social media and the mass of fire trucks and police cars.

“The reason that I called it in was because it didn’t look just like chimney smoke; it was like billowing over the top of the building, and the wind was probably making it look bigger as well,” Forman said. “But it was like somebody had started a campfire at the top of Hugel and the smoke was coming out.”