What we know about the fire in Discovery Hall



Firefighters stand outside Innovation and Discovery Halls Nov. 15. A chemical fire in a lab closed the two buildings down all day Friday.

A chemical fire in one of UVM’s newest STEM buildings left a student injured and a portion of Central campus at a standstill, Nov. 15. 

A “flash fire” erupted inside a chemical fume hood in a Discovery Hall lab just before 10 a.m. A team of graduate student researchers were working with chemical compound samples in preparation for a hazardous material disposal practice, UVM spokesperson Enrique Corderra said.

While one graduate student was moving a vial full of an unknown chemical compound, the vial somehow broke, instantly igniting into flames as the substance touched the air, Corderra said. 

“We don’t know the exact type of compound the vial contained,” he said. “But it was most likely a phosphorus compound that when exposed to air chemically reacts and produces a flash of fire.” 

The fire alarm was pulled at 9:57 a.m., and the first responding Burlington firefighters found one person who was minorly injured. The individual was transported to the hospital, said Aaron Collette, deputy chief of operations of Burlington Fire Department.

Roads and sidewalks around Discovery and Innovation Halls were closed down as the Vermont State Hazardous Materials HAZMAT Response Team arrived on the scene. 

The hazmat team was called in to make sure there was no further risk the fire would reignite and to make sure there were no chemical dangers, Collette said. 

Students gathered around the taped off sidewalks watching as firefighters, fully equipped with oxygen masks and axes, entered the building to ensure the fire was fully put out.

A passing firefighter told a group of students that it would be a while before the halls reopened that day. 

“An experiment didn’t go quite as planned,” the firefighter said to the students. 

 The alarms inside of Discovery and Innovation Halls could be heard blaring for four hours as crews slowly worked to make sure the building was clear and safe, Corederra said. 

“Everything you see is out of a huge abundance of caution, just to follow every procedure to ensure safety,” Corederra said. 

Innovation and Discovery Halls are part of a $104 million science, technology, engineering and mathematics  complex, which is the largest construction project in the University’s history, according to an Oct. 2017 UVM press release. 

Classes in Innovation and Discovery were cancelled all day Nov. 15. No further information has been provided to the UVM community since Nov. 15.