NORMAN — Firefighters retrieved eyeglasses, coats and other essentials Wednesday for women displaced by a fire that erupted the night before at the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority house near the University of Oklahoma campus.
About 61 women were evacuated safely, but the house at 930 Chautauqua Ave. has significant interior damage, said Deputy Fire Chief Jim Bailey.
Firefighters responded to calls from the house about 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, the deputy fire chief said.
“Flames were showing through the roof when firefighters arrived, but all the girls were outside and safe. They were alerted by alarms and helped outside by a couple of police officers who got there before us,” Bailey said.
The women spent the night mainly at other sorority houses or with friends. One parent who drove in from Tulsa early Wednesday said her daughter spent the night with several other women at Embassy Suites after a local mother arranged a room for them.
Sorority members and the housemother were told not to discuss the fire with the media. All inquiries were referred to the sorority's international headquarters in Indianapolis.
“Thankfully, all of the women who were living in the facility are safe and accounted for,” said Jill Harter, international director of communications and marketing for the sorority. “The international organization is working with our Alpha Gamma Delta chapter at OU, volunteers and campus professionals to support the chapter during this challenging time.”
The three-story brick house sustained about $500,000 worth of damage, Bailey said, much of it water and smoke damage. He estimated about $250,000 worth of damage to contents.
“We did an aggressive attack inside the house and were able to extinguish the fire in about 30 minutes. It took another hour and half to make sure all the hot spots were out,” he said.
The women who live at the house probably won't be able to live there for the remainder of the semester, Bailey said.
Bailey said the blaze apparently started in the attic, but the cause remains under investigation.
He said the house recently underwent some siding and roof work, “but I don't have any idea if that had anything to do with the fire.”
The housemother, who declined to talk to the press, told bystanders that everyone acted quickly and efficiently Tuesday night to ensure the safety of residents.
“This is an extremely supportive community. Everyone was helpful and just wonderful,” she said.
A second-floor resident said she thought it was a fire drill when she heard the alarms going off.
“We didn't smell smoke or anything. We just thought it was a drill. I'm glad we didn't ignore it,” she said. The woman declined to give her name.
Wayne Cometa, of Cache, said his daughter Savanna lives at the sorority but was not there when the fire broke out.
“She was coming back from class and was stopped by policemen before she got to the house. She called us right away so we knew she was safe even before anything about the fire was reported on the news,” he said.
Another parent said her daughter called from inside the house “hysterical.” But, she quickly called back and said she was outside and safe, the mother said.