by James V. GelusoDaily Cougar Senior Staff
A dumpster full of leaves and construction debris went up in smoke outside the Moody Towers Thursday afternoon.
Officials could only speculate about the cause of the fire, but said it was probably ignited by a lit cigarette thrown into the dumpster from a walkway above.
"We suspect that someone may have thrown a live cigarette into the dumpster from up there," said Nancy Tuley, manager of the Business Department of Residential Life and Housing.
Riley Wedgeworth, one of the firefighters called to the scene, agreed with Tuley's assessment. "It could have been anything from a lit match to a cigarette," he said. "It was probably just a cigarette."
The UH Police Department said the fire was reported at 1:58 p.m.
The fire produced more smoke than flames, and the wind made it difficult to get to the dumpster with a fire extinguisher, Tuley said.
"Our work-study came in and asked if the garbage was supposed to be burning," she said. "It surprised us all that there was so much smoke by the time we noticed it was burning."
Students working out in The Firm, the health club in the basement of the Towers, got front-row seats to the spectacle.
"We thought they were burning it and it was being controlled," said Chris Irwin, a senior who was in The Firm at the time. "It was burning high and there was no one around. A bunch of ash and smoke were coming out."
The two firefighters digging through the dumpster spent about 20 minutes turning over leaves and spraying them to put an end to any smoldering leaves. They uncovered tables, plastic garbage bags, Styrofoam cups and air filters. Some yellow smoke was seen coming from the corner of the dumpster where the air filters were, but Riley said the smoke coloration probably came from leaves.
The dumpster will most likely be cleared out as a routine matter, according to an employee of RLH's Operations Department. "It would just be a normal procedure. If they've put out the fire, they'll probably just empty it out," said the employee, who refused to identify herself to The Daily Cougar.