Douglas fire sparks arson investigation

By Matt Michalek

University Police and the DeKalb Fire Department are investigating an arson fire set Friday morning in Douglas Hall.

Firefighters rushed to Douglas Hall early Friday morning when a fire in a public bathroom set off smoke and heat sensors.

Students living in the hall were awakened by the alarm, and evacuated the building around 2:30 a.m. because of the blaze set in the B-wing basement bathroom.

Mike Boyd, fire investigator with the DeKalb Fire Department, said the fire was set with purpose, and is being considered arson.

“A plastic liner from a trash can was stuffed with paper towels and a urinal cake and set on fire,” he said.

Douglas Hall Director Linda Koschoreck said, “There was a lot of smoke in the hall, and when we opened the door (to the bathroom), we could see the flames.

“McDowell Porter (Douglas Hall staff assistant) actually put out the fire. It took him a while to put it out, so it was definitely not a small fire,” she said.

The fire in Douglas Hall is the sixth arson fire this semester at NIU, Boyd said. “It has been bad this semester,” he said.

“Setting a fire like this may look like a simple prank, but we consider it to be of a very serious nature. The hazards it causes are great,” he said.

In addition to being a safety problem and possibly causing unnecessary injuries, arson is also illegal, Boyd said. “It is a felony charge if you are caught doing it.”

University Police Detective Robert Canon said the charge for this fire would be aggravated arson, which is a Class X felony.

“A Class X felony carries the most severe penalties in the felony class,” he said. In addition to this felony charge, the person who sparked the blaze also would be charged with disorderly conduct and criminal damage to state property.

Lynn Richards, attorney at the Students’ Legal Assistance office, said the penalties for a Class X felony are no less than six years in prison and no more than 30 years.

NIU is offering a $250 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who set the fire.

This reward is in conjunction with the policies stated in The Guide Post, the handbook of residence hall rules and regulations.

Anyone with information about the fire should call the DeKalb Fire Department at 758-3414, and ask for a fire investigator.