Historical blazes give K-State a fiery history

(Archive photo from 1969 | Courtesy Kansas State Libraries)

From the beginning, Kansas State has extensive experience with battling blazes. The most recent fire in Hale Library overshadows some of the more interesting campus fires.

The first recorded fire occurred in May 1882 in Anderson Hall. The seventh volume of the Kansas State Industrialist reported that “on Saturday of last week, one of the workmen on the new building kindled a fire on some piece of slate in the second story in an idiotic attempt to warm his fingers.”

A hole was burned in some second story floor boards. The workman’s name was not reported.

According to a Collegian article “During fire prevention week, Kansas State recalls past fires” dated Oct. 8, 1948, the president’s house was struck by lightning in 1895 and subsequently caught fire. It was a “total loss.”

Holtz Hall burned on May 31, 1900. It had previously housed the chemistry department and women’s gymnasium.

Denison was built to replace Holtz, but it burned down in 1934. The Manhattan Mercury reported on Aug. 4, 1934 that students stood outside the building attempting to “identify chemicals based on the colors of the flames.” Willard Hall was constructed after Denison burned down to house the chemistry and physics departments.

The campus did not see another fire for 31 years, until K-State’s auditorium, nicknamed the Barn, burned Jan. 15, 1965.

At 1:20 in the morning, night watchman Frank Beard reported the fire, a Collegian article reports. A dozen campus and city firefighters fought the flames. Arson was later determined to be the cause of the late night blaze. The interior was mostly constructed of wood which led to a fast moving fire.

Originally, it was thought Beard was the arsonist. On Jan. 19, 1964, the Collegian reported two students had been arrested for arson. Larry D. Sayler and William F. Shaw were convicted of the crime.

The Nichols Hall fire occurred Friday, Dec. 13, 1968. The fire destroyed radio station equipment, sheet music, instruments and two gymnasiums within the building. The fire was set by an arsonist who stacked wooden tables by the main doors, poured gasoline on them and set them ablaze. They were never caught.

The stone walls were the only remaining part of the building. University president Duane Acker wanted to raze the building a decade later, but student protests resulted in a movement to revitalize the building instead. Construction began in 1983.

Anderson Hall once again was in flames Aug. 20, 1993 when the south tower was struck by lightning. K-State senior Craig Goodman alerted the campus police who then called the Manhattan Fire Department. Damage to Anderson was estimated to cost $1.25 million.

On March 2, 2018, Wefald Hall was evacuated when a fire started just after 4:30 a.m. Most of the damage in the building was caused by water damage and the fire was extinguished by an internal suppression system. About 25 students were relocated.

May 22 of this year marks the most recent fire on campus with a fire starting atop Hale Library during roofing construction. Major damage came from water and smoke as the fire only broke through in the Great Room.

The first floor of the Hale may be reopened as soon as fall of 2019.

My name is Bailey Britton and I am the former editor-in-chief of the Collegian. Previously, I have been the assistant news editor and the managing editor. I have also interned for the Manhattan Mercury and the Colby Free Press. I grew up in Colby, Kansas, and I am a junior in journalism and English. Through the Collegian, I aim to provide the K-State community with quality news coverage while we learn to serve our campus.