Two students were taken to a hospital for observation after breathing in smoke from a chemical fire that broke out on the third floor of Gottwald Center for the Sciences on Wednesday evening.

The two students were released from the hospital before midnight, Cynthia Price, director of media and public relations, said.

The fire caused the building to be evacuated and the Richmond hazardous materials team to investigate.

“It was a small fire that was quickly contained,” Price said. “Because it was in the science building, they needed to go in to assess and make sure it was okay. The Richmond hazmat team came in to do that.”

It is unclear what caused the fire and how much damage the fire caused. 

The hazardous materials team gave Gottwald the all clear Wednesday night, Price said. The building reopened Thursday morning but the chemistry section will be partially closed, according to a university communications email.

A few dozen people watched the scene Wednesday night, while fire officials and police talked in a sectioned-off area, from the edge of the Forum as it thunder stormed.

Firefighters that had entered the building were sprayed with a water hose, while still in their gear, after leaving the building.


Ryan Passera | The Collegian

Smoke rising from Gottwald Center for the Sciences on Wednesday evening. A fire broke out on the third floor of the building. 


Mike Leopold, professor of chemistry, and a student researcher, Arjun Jaini, RC '18, were on the second floor of Gottwald when they smelled and saw smoke, Leopold said.

Leopold sent Jaini to the third floor to investigate, while he searched the second floor for the source of the smoke, Leopold said.

"We really didn't think there was a fire,” Jaini said. “We were checking to make sure everything was okay upstairs."

Jaini entered a lab on the third floor and saw flames engulfing a chemical waste hood, he said.

“[Jaini] came back and said there was an open fire in the building so I went back up,” Leopold said. “I grabbed a fire extinguisher, thinking it would be extinguishable. It wasn’t, so I told students to get out.”

Leopold told a student to pull the fire alarm, he said. Jaini ran to get out of the building, and shouted at two students on the third floor, Carolyn May and Noah Hillerbrand, to leave the building, he said.

“We were studying for the MCAT,” May said. “We were just up there and the fire alarm went off, and a kid went running by and yelled, ‘this is real, get out.’”

May and Hillerbrand packed up their things and walked out, May said. They could smell smoke but couldn’t see anything, she said.

The Virginia Fire Officers Academy and Virginia Fire Chiefs Academy, which include fire officials from across the state, are taking place on campus this week and use a classroom in Gottwald to run their operations. The annual academies are the last programs before new fire officers and chiefs graduate. 

Contact news writer Ashlee Korlach at ashlee.korlach@richmond.edu. 

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