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Fire damages chemistry lab

A fire that began when a researcher in a chemistry lab (Rm 6-430) accidentally broke a bottle of a flammable solvent closed Building 6 and parts of the main campus for several hours last Wednesday. The Cambridge Fire Department spent about an hour containing the fire.

No one was hurt in the incident, although thick black smoke filled the fourth floor lab and surrounding areas.

Hexane, the solvent, is "similar to gasoline in flammability," said Rick L. Danheiser, professor of chemistry and chair of the department's safety committee.

Professor Danheiser praised the researcher and the fire department for their efforts.

"Following our department's standard procedure for dealing with such spills, the researcher immediately absorbed the solvent using four "spill pillows" stored in the laboratory for just this purpose. Unfortunately, in this case the spill happened to occur just in front of a laboratory oven, and several minutes later solvent vapor ignited. The researcher immediately sounded the fire alarm. By the time the fire department had arrived, the fire had spread as it ignited other flammable materials in the laboratory," he said.

W. Gerald Diaz, director of the Safety Office, described the damage to the lab as "not as much as one might expect in this type of fire, thanks to a great effort by the Cambridge Fire Department and fire protection sprinklers in the laboratory."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 28, 1998.

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