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Students told to evacuate Architecture Building due to smoke in fabrication shop

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The Architecture Building.
Aarushi Adlakha

Emergency vehicles swarmed the Prospect House driveway, responding to a fire alarm set off in the architecture building on Tuesday, March 21. The incident originated in a fabrication shop located in the Architecture Building basement, and according to an email from Department Manager Jeanette Turner, was caused by a smoking router bit.

A router bit is primarily used to drill into wood and other materials. According to WOOD magazine, the tool often causes workpieces to overheat and burn — risk of this is heightened if the bit is too dull, used at high speeds, or used while there is a buildup of residue like sawdust. Additionally, certain types of wood are more susceptible to burning.

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According to AJ Comsti ’23, the shop monitor on duty at the time of the incident, shop manager Marie Beretsky called 911 around 4:15 p.m. after noticing smoke accumulating in the room. At the request of emergency operators, Comsti manually triggered the fire alarm around 4:20 p.m.. At 4:26 p.m., Turner sent an email to the School of Architecture Undergraduates listserv advising students to “EVACUATE THE BUILDING NOW.” 



Comsti reported that part of a computer numerical control (CNC) router that vacuums sawdust from the workpiece either experienced too much friction or caught embers, causing the buildup of smoke.

“The sawdust and the embers started making a lot of smoke. But there was no active fire,” Comsti said.

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CNC machines are often used to drill and cut complex, digitally designed patterns into metal or wood.

The Daily Princetonian heard from multiple students that one could smell smoke from the first floor of the building. Students evacuated the building and gathered on the Frist North Lawn while waiting for the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to authorize re-entry.

Keith Zhang ’24, an architecture major who was at his workspace on the second floor at the time of the incident, shared that he first believed the alarm to be a drill or a joke. However, he reported feeling “a bit concerned” when fire engines arrived at the scene.

John Raulston Graham ’24, another architecture major, noted that a fire SUV pulled through the gate at Prospect House, followed by a full-sized ladder truck. Over a dozen emergency vehicles were present in the following hour.

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Graham is a contributing columnist for the ‘Prince.’

Emergency responders entered the building to assess the hazard and clear the smoke. At 5:14 p.m., a second email was sent with an empty body and the subject line “All Clear!” Some students, however, had already returned to the building to retrieve their belongings.

At 5:47 p.m., a third email was sent, informing students of the cause of the fire alarm — a router bit had caused smoke to accumulate — and asking that, in the event of a similar incident in the future, students not re-enter the building prematurely.


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Fire damage in the Architecture Building. 
Photo courtesy of Hannah Su.


“The CNC router is currently down until damage can be assessed,” Turner wrote in the message.

Nobody was hurt in the incident, according to University spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss.

Tess Weinreich is an associate News editor for the ‘Prince.’

Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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