An early morning fire gutted an Economics Department building at 42 Quincy Street yesterday, and left only a burntout shell.
No one was injured in the blaze, which broke out at 1:30 a.m. Fire Department officials said that a faulty heating unit--probably a defective boiler--caused the fire.
Thirteen department units came across the street from the Cambridge Fire Station to fight the fire. Hampered by the bitter cold and by what they called the "structural unsoundness" of the building, firemen stayed through the afternoon to extinguish smoldering embers.
"We can't go in there to put out the flames," one fireman said, "because the whole building might fall in on us at any minute."
No one was in the building when the fire broke out, and the Fire Department said that by the time it was called to the blaze the building was "totally engulfed in flames."
The building was scheduled to be torn down at the end of this year. However, Economics officials said the fire destroyed valuable books and papers belonging to the two assistant professors, nine teaching fellows, and three instructors who used the offices.
The exact extent of the loss will not be determined until workers are able to salvage any remaining material. Some of the building's former occupants said that their books and papers were kept in steel desks, and might still be saved.
The building usually contained the research notes and drafts for the teaching fellows' doctoral dissertations. However, since most of them had removed their papers over the vacation, there have so far been no reports of lost dissertations. Subramanian Swamy, associate professor of Economics, said that many irreplaceable notes for his three year comparative study of Chinese and Indian economic growth may have been destroyed. Last summer Swamy went to the Orient, studying with professors in Japan and Hong Kong and investigating materials in libraries there.
A Cambridge fireman tried to save Swamy's notes by rushing into the burning building and throwing some papers out the window. They landed in the snow, however, and Swamy says he will have to wait until the snow melts to find them.
Officials also said that a large collection of personal books belonging to Thomas D. Willett, instructor in Economics, may have been lost