Students, staff and orientation attendees poured out of the University Center at 9:50 a.m. Tuesday after a fire started in Panda Express.
The Arlington Fire Department’s first unit arrived to find smoke emitting from the vent on the rooftop, officials said. Crews investigated and “found areas smoldering during the overhaul operations and successfully mitigated the hazard,” according to an AFD statement.
The fire was extinguished by 10:13 a.m. However, the UC didn’t return to normal operation until around 1 p.m.
The building was given an all-clear to return by the Arlington Fire Department chief on site, UC director David Albart said in an email. The location was also deemed safe to return by local authorities on campus.
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined. Some equipment in Panda Express was damaged, and no injuries were reported at the time of publication.
Panda Express will remain closed as equipment needs to be repaired, and there is currently no estimate for when it will reopen, Albart said.
Computer science junior Edward Kubik heard the alarms while in line at Starbucks. After about a minute, Kubik said people started running down the hallways and told everyone to leave the building. As he walked outside, Kubik said he saw a big cloud of white smoke emanating from the loading docks.
Incoming students and their families were in the building for New Maverick Orientation at the time of the fire.
Incoming architecture freshman Amanda Sanchez was with New Maverick Orientation for chant competitions in Rosebud Theater when the alarms sounded.
Students were led outside by her orientation leader to regroup near the UTA Bookstore, Sanchez said.
She went to her advising meetings as scheduled while the group remained in a shaded area, she said.
Orientation students and their families were eventually relocated to the Maverick Activities Center and The Commons.
Myrna Briones, New Maverick Orientation student coordinator, said the plan in an emergency is to evacuate safely and to gather small groups together.
The Commons provided food and the MAC provided a play to stay cool, Briones said.The only activities canceled were the Involvement Fair and the interest sessions.
The goal was to have all the freshmen advised and registered for classes before they leave, Briones said.
Once the UC resumed operations, The Plaza remained closed due to the dust, debris and residual cleaning that needed to take place after the fire. Some offices in the building also remained closed because staff members were allowed to work from home after the fire.
Ravi Grant, a Mav Express student worker, said the office returned to work after two to three hours. The fans made it difficult to hear students, but there were no other issues, Grant said.
The UC still stands in the same place it was first constructed in 1953. Each decade afterward saw a renovation of the building. Improvements ranged from expansions to remodels. The 242,000 square feet building is a major meeting space for students, organizations and staff.
In addition to hosting orientation, the UC is home to the food court, post office, study places and various department offices like Student Affairs.
Cleaning and ventilating out any smoke will continue overnight, Albart said. The university will also set up additional ventilation to eliminate odors throughout the evening.