Dorm fire displaces 10 Cal Poly students

November 4, 2013

calpolyA fire in a Cal Poly dormitory left 10 students without housing Sunday evening. [KSBY]

Around 4 p.m. Sunday, a mattress in a Sequoia Hall bedroom caught on fire, forcing residents to evacuate the building.

The mattress caught on fire after an overloaded electrical circuit connecting three bedrooms shorted, causing sparks, San Luis Obispo Fire Battalion Chief Neal Berryman told the Tribune.

San Luis Obispo firefighters put out the fire, and no injuries occurred. Residents of four rooms in Sequoia Hall are temporarily displaced.

The room in which the fire occurred is not safe to live in for the rest of the quarter. It is unclear how long those living in the other three rooms must sleep elsewhere.

Cal Poly officials are working to arrange new housing for the displaced students.


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If I remember correctly, Sequoia Hall is one of the older dorms (probably at least twice the age of your house) and was therefore built back in the days when the only plug in-appliances were things like hair dryers, stereos and maybe a small TV, mini-fridge or hot-plate. They could draw quite a bit of amperage but most weren’t on 24-7 like computers or chargers.

Still that does sound like too many rooms for one circuit but maybe updating that design has been too expensive to make a priority before now. Electrical panels, breakers and wiring deteriorate with age too and it sounds like it is time to invest in those expensive repairs to avoid even more expensive (and possibly tragic) fires.

Technically, many of those appliances you listed actually drew more power than their highly-efficient modern-day equivalents.

A better argument, perhaps, would be that back then, we only had 2-3 things to plug in, whereas now, we have 6-10, and regardless of the higher efficiency, the draw is greater?

Just speculation, but that’s my first thought… too many plugs and powerstrips all adding up to a demand that the j-box was not designed to hold.

I’m no electrician, but three bedrooms on one breaker seems excessive. My house (20 years old) has a 20 amp breaker assigned to each bedroom for plugs (total of 6 outlets in each room) with the lights on a different 15 amp breaker.

Perhaps commercial wiring is different – does anyone know about this stuff?

Rule of thumb: unless you had your house custom-built with an Architect overseeing the engineering teams, you likely got the cheapest possible, minimum requirement by code.

A friend of ours has a neighbor who had pipes burst recently – the house was built in the early 2000’s, and the water pipes burst already. They paid over $500K for the house (typical SLO track home at the time of purchase) and still got to experience the low-bid effect.

In the words of America’s first man in space, Alan B. Sheppard:

It’s a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one’s safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.