Student's Valentine's plans get too hot to handleA steamy Valentine’s night ended in disaster for one Keble student last Thursday after a fire broke out during a candle-lit date in his room.

Second year Modern History and Politics student George Warren looks set to be faced with a bill of £1,000 after being asked to pay damages by Keble College authorities.

The fire started after Warren, who had planned for a romantic evening in with his girlfriend, placed candles next to some curtains by his window.

Describing the incident, Warren said, “In order to save some money, I decided to cook my girlfriend a meal so I lit some candles to create the right atmosphere. Stupidly I placed them on the windowsill.

“After we ate, things started getting steamy and she suggested I close the curtains. I did and minutes after we sat down to take a breather, the curtains went up in flames. I ran over, ripped the curtains down and threw them out of the window.”

By this time the fire had already damaged the window, and before he threw the curtains out onto the concrete the flames had spread to the carpet and the wardrobe. “The window cracked from the heat and my carpet and wardrobe were also caught by the flames,” Warren said.

JCR President John Maher lives next door to Warren on staircase P4, but had left his room for the evening to give him some privacy.  He said, “The walls are very thin in Keble and obviously I didn’t want to hear whatever George got up to so I tried to avoid my room for the evening by hanging around the post area.”

On hearing shouts that there was a fire, Maher called 999 and quickly alerted people by knocking on doors.
He said, “I knocked on as many doors as I could because we have a lot of fire drills at Keble and it was important that people took notice that this was a real fire.”

A student living on the floor below George was woken up by the fire alarm and said, “There was so much smoke that I thought my room would suffer from smoke damage. The porter was running around panicking but a fire engine came quickly and everyone was evacuated from the building and carted into the JCR.”

Students were kept waiting for two hours while the fire crew dealt with the flames.  Warren’s girlfriend, who is not a member of Keble, was left among the JCR wearing only a dressing gown.

One eyewitness said, “She must have been really embarrassed because she didn’t know any of us.
“When we were allowed back into the building, all we saw on the ground was a pathetic lump of burnt, charred curtain.”

Warren, who is currently directing Night of the Iguana at Keble’s O’Reilly, was not seriously hurt in the incident but did suffer burns on his hand as he battled with the curtains. He claims he has learnt from his mistake, saying, “I now know that putting candles next to curtains is obviously a silly thing to do. I was fairly contrite about the whole thing because it could have been worse, I’m lucky that no-one was seriously hurt.”

Keble College Bursar, Roger Boden, said, “We have not yet had estimates for repairs to the room but they are unlikely to come in at less than £1,000.  Obviously the College will have to seek recovery of all costs.

“The College Handbook clearly states: “Lighted candles and burning incense in College rooms constitute a fire hazard and are expressly forbidden.”  The prohibition is there for a reason, as this incident illustrates.”

Action was taken the next morning with cleaners inspecting College rooms and emptying them of candles and other fire hazards.

In an email to the JCR, Senior Dean Dr Rogers said, “The room will be uninhabitable until next term. It could have been much worse, and the College is thankful for the prompt and decisive action of the Porter and for the co-operation of those residents who evacuated the staircase.”

Dr Rogers added, “The episode underscores the importance of regular fire safety drills. These may not be popular, but they are essential. You are expected to evacuate your room within 3 minutes in the event of an alarm. The penalty for failing to do so is a fine of £25.”

Following a meeting with College authorities this week, Warren has been temporarily re-housed in a small room that Keble students call the ‘linen cupboard’. He has been asked to pay £1000 for the damage to his room. Warren said, “I’m not refusing to pay it but it does seem a bit much. They’re going to add up the costs and get back to me for another meeting.”

Maher claims some good has come out of the incident: “In an attempt to quench the fires of his passion, George has sparked new life into the slow-burning debate about fire safety.”by Omotola Akerele, Deputy News Editor