When Peter H. York '74 awoke early Sunday morning--at just after 2 a.m. in fact--his Lowell House room was an inferno. Searing flames burst from a closet door, singeing his hair, and when he put his left hand on the wall in making an escape, large blisters sprang from his palm. During York's panicky exit through a first floor window in Lowell's O-entry, he further cut his left hand and right forearm.
He recalls now that he wandered around outside "in shock" after the incident, answering the questions of other frightened and awakened students. Finally, Harvard police rushed him to Cambridge City Hospital where his minor injuries were treated.
Thirty firemen brought the blaze under control within an hour, and contained damages to within $17,000. But the fire still smolders, at least for Peter York.
York says that while doctors worked on his injured arms, Harvard police entered the hospital emergency room and summarily questioned him on the cause of the fire. He remembers that, still in a daze, he responded with "the first thing that came to my mind"--that "apparently" a discarded cigarette started the blaze.
York says now that he "is positive" he did not throw away a lit cigarette, that he had been sleeping an hour and a half before waking amid flames. He admits, however, that he had been drinking at a Quincy House mixer before coming home at 12:30 a.m., but again denies that he came into his room with a cigarette in his hand or that he lit one inside.
The Cambridge Fire Department continues to list a smoldering cigarette as the official cause. York says he will see Stephen S. J. Hall, vice president for administration, this afternoon--partly to exonerate himself from any blame, he says, but also "because I don't want anyone else to have to go through what I went through in that room."
Meanwhile, Lowell residents protested earlier this week that no fire alarm sounded in the House and that York and other O-entry residents were lucky to escape alive.
Hall explained Sunday that the fire in the closet melted wires to York's fire bell, disabling the alarm system and preventing the alarm from sounding. Hall was out of town yesterday, but said earlier that his office would consider installing a back-up alarm system in the Houses.
Lowell House Master Zeph Stewart said yesterday that he has no authority in the matter and that he had received no communications regarding a new alarm system.
In Lowell House O-entry, workmen have cleared York's former room and are now washing the soot from the walls. York will be moving to South House.