Early-morning campus fire evacuates Drake Hall

Drake Residence Hall was evacuated Sunday, Jan. 29 because of a fire in a basement common area. No one was injured in the incident and all the residents of the building are safe in other residence halls and apartments. Read the latest updates below.

Hotline set up for Drake Hall Fire Incident: 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14

Anyone with information about the fire is encouraged to call 608.785.5000.

Letter from UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow: 1:20 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14

Dear students and colleagues:

I’m writing to let you know the current status of the investigation into the fire that occurred in the basement of Drake Hall early on the morning of Sunday, January 29th. As I’ve previously stated, investigators still have not determined precisely how the fire began. However, we’ve just received an update from the La Crosse Fire Department which concludes that the fire in the Drake basement lounge originated in a couch. According to our fire and police investigators, there clearly was a person or persons involved in causing the fire to start.

To aid us in determining what happened, we’re hoping that someone with information will come forward. This will enable us to discover exactly how and why the couch in the Drake lounge started burning. If you or someone you know has information that might assist our fire and police investigators please call 785-5000 and leave a voice-mail message. If you prefer to keep your name confidential investigators certainly will respect your wishes. Anyone able to provide credible information that can help determine the exact circumstances of the fire and the identity of those involved may be eligible for a reward of up to $2,000.

This has been a very challenging experience for all the 271 residents of Drake Hall, and I regret to create additional anxiety by sending such an unsettling update to our campus community. But I trust that you’ll all understand how important it is that we do everything possible to determine what happened in the Drake basement lounge on the morning of the fire. So if you or anyone you know can help our investigators please call 785-5000 and share your information. Thank you.



Joe Gow, Chancellor
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Check out the CNNiReport on the Drake Hall fire

A quote from the story: “In La Crosse, working fire alarms and alert students averted tragedy. The other story is how a university community came together and helped 271 students continue their lives and education- all after the fire.”

Letter to Drake Hall residents regarding room charges: 2 p.m. Wednesday 2/8

Upon review of numerous issues, the following financial adjustments to your spring semester room charges should be noted:

Drake Hall residents who elected to cancel their housing contract to commute from home or move off campus will receive a full refund of their spring semester room rate ($1734). We will be processing these refunds this week and you can either go to the Cashiers Office (Graff Main Hall) or call to request your refund check, assuming of course that you have made payment. The phone number is 608.785.8719 and the office hours are 8 to 4, M-F.

We will honor the Drake Hall room contract regardless as to where you were relocated (Reuter, Eagle, or another traditional hall).

Drake Hall residents who have choosen to remain in on-campus housing will be billed $1488 for the spring semester room rate rather than the regular semester rate ($1734).

Drake Hall residents who have been relocated to a 3 person double or 5 person study overflow room will receive a rebate of $300 for the spring semester along with $25 being added to their ID card for laundry. Non-Drake Hall residents who volunteered to take in another student will also receive this rebate and monies added to their ID card.

The ORL staff and Drake Hall staff and leadership team will continue to provide programming, activities, and community opportunities throughout the semester for you. Be attentive to future emails coming your way.

As a reminder, should you desire to return to on campus housing for the 2012-13 academic year, the application process deadline is Noon Friday, 2/10!

Should you have any questions, comments or concerns, we remain committed to serving you. Please contact me, your hall director, or the Office of Residence Life 608.785.8075.

Dr. Nick Nicklaus
Director of Residence Life and Graduate Faculty
608.785.8075 (office)

Letter from Chancellor Joe Gow: 2 p.m. Monday 2/6

Dear students and colleagues:

I’m writing to express our gratitude to everyone who came over to Drake Hall this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday to help the residents move their belongings out of the building. It was so impressive to see numerous students, staff and faculty volunteer to carry boxes and furniture, and help transport these items to new locations. As a result of this kindness 132 residents were able to finish moving out of Drake over the weekend, and many of the others have only a few more items to go. Thanks so much to all of you who volunteered!

As you’ll recall, we’ll hold another series of move-out days this coming Friday (noon to 6 p.m.), Saturday and Sunday (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.). At this point we’re not sure how many volunteers will be needed, but we’ll be making an estimate later in the week and will let everyone know about the situation closer to Friday.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the following groups of people who’ve always been there for our Drake students throughout this unexpected and unusual experience:

City of La Crosse Fire Department
UW-L University Police Department
Office of Residence Life
Student Affairs Office
Counseling Center
Health Services Center
Office of Facilities Planning and Management
University Communications Office
Chartwell’s and University Centers
Business and Finance Office
And the many UW-L students who’ve volunteered to share their living spaces

But most of all we need to thank our Drake residents for evacuating the building so quickly the morning the fire occurred and for their inspiring resilience throughout the challenging process of relocating. I know I speak for everyone here at UW-L when I say we’re all very proud of you!

Best wishes,


Joe Gow, Chancellor
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Update: 11 a.m. Monday 2/6

Move out … As of Monday morning, 132 Drake Hall residents had officially checked out of their rooms. Many other rooms are cleared of possessions except for a few items, and not officially cleared for checked out. Students have accepted housing assignments in other residence halls, the Western Residence Hall and Viterbo University. Others have moved to apartments, hotels or will commute from home.

Volunteers helpful, still needed … The move-out process this first weekend went “extremely well,” according to Nick Nicklaus, director of Residence Life. Those wishing to volunteer to help with move-out this weekend (Friday-Sunday, Feb. 10-12) should report directly to Drake Hall to assist. Move-out times are: noon-6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Housing options … Currently, all residents temporarily assigned to Eagle Hall basement multipurpose room have been reassigned to other housing options. The basement area should be cleaned of mattresses, clothes racks, etc., soon. Some students remain in the larger, classroom/multipurpose rooms on the first floor. Those students should be finalizing their housing arrangements soon.

Update on move-out and ongoing resident support: 10 a.m. Friday 2/3

Help needed for Drake move-out!

It looks like Friday (Feb. 3) afternoon noon-6 p.m. and Saturday (Feb. 4) from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. will be heavy move out days for the students in Drake Hall.

Many volunteers to help in this process would be appreciated.  If you have a vehicle that can be used to transport belongings to the student’s new home, that would be extremely helpful.

Volunteers should report to the check in area at the Recreational Eagle Center, 1601 Badger St.

Res Life Office open this weekend

The Office of Residence Life in Eagle Hall will be open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, and Sunday, Feb. 5. Staff will be on hand to receive phone calls and answer questions about Drake Hall. Phone: 608.785.8075.

Ongoing Support for Drake Hall Residents…

Open meetings are planned every Tuesday beginning Feb. 7, for Drake Hall students on “Coping with the Unexpected and Moving Forward.” Meetings run from 5-6 p.m. Tuesdays in 2204 Centennial Hall. The free sessions are offered by the UW-L Counseling and Testing Center


Letter from Joe Gow: 11:30 a.m. Thursday 2/2

Consultants have told UW-L that it will be at least two to three months until Drake Hall is safe to occupy again. Consequently, the staff of our Residence Life Office is working with all Drake residents to ensure they have places to stay for the rest of spring semester.

Email from Nick Nicklaus: 10:30 a.m. Thursday 2/2

Due to the scope of the fire and the significance of the repairs that need to be made, we need to remove all personal belongings from Drake Hall so rooms can be cleaned by a fire cleanup and restoration company. A move-out schedule has been established.

Update on room and mail info: 8 a.m. Wednesday 2/1

Especially for Drake Hall Residents:

Room accommodations …. Now that we know that Drake will be closed for several weeks we need to shift from short term plans to long term plans. Please go to this Google Form and fill out the information so we know exactly how many Drake residents need accommodations and where you plan to stay if you do not need accommodations.

Get your mail ….We have made arrangements for mail delivery. All mail will be delivered to Eagle Hall and documented as a package. You will receive an email notification to tell you that you have mail. If you live in Eagle Hall currently or off campus, your mail will be available for pick-up at the Eagle Front Desk. If you live in another hall on campus, your mail will be delivered to that hall’s front desk for you to pick up. This process will start as soon as possible. The mail that was already delivered to Drake Hall before the fire will be brought over to Eagle Hall to be delivered soon.

Letter from Chancellor Gow: 7 a.m. Tuesday 1/31

Hello, students and colleagues. As our efforts to get Drake Hall back to normal continue, I wanted to be sure to share the latest key developments with you.

Unfortunately, it’s now looking like the residents of Drake will be displaced from their hall for approximately two to four weeks. We had hoped to have them return much sooner, and are doing everything we can to expedite the process; however, no one can move back into the building until we are sure the facility is safe and clean. For example, even though we can seal off the basement area where the fire occurred, the building’s fire alarm system, which worked just as it should have, will now need to be rebuilt entirely, and all the electrical and other mechanical systems will need to be tested and any defects that are discovered will need to be remedied. Also, the unpleasant odor throughout the entire building will need to be cleaned away before it is ready to be occupied again. So it may be several weeks before our Drake residents are able to return.

In the meantime, the 271 residents of Drake are relocated in temporary housing. But now that we know these temporary housing arrangements will need to be continued for longer than originally envisioned our Residence Life staff is working very hard to formulate options for housing our Drake residents over a period of weeks, rather than days. Very soon all Drake residents will be contacted with these options and asked to prioritize their preferences. At this point the best available options include vacancies and overflow arrangements in other UW-L residence halls, and short-term accommodations in the off-campus homes of faculty and staff who have kindly volunteered to take in Drake residents. Should you have a room or rooms in your own home that you’d like to offer, please call our Residence Life Office at 608.785.8075.

As I mentioned on Sunday, we are very fortunate that the fire resulted in no deaths or injuries. A number of years ago our Residence Life staff made the decision to upgrade our fire alarm systems in all our residence halls. That decision more than likely gave us the favorable results of getting everyone out unharmed. Additionally, we have plans in place, which were formulated before the Drake fire, to install sprinkler systems in all our older residence halls as we renovate them over the coming years. While building codes do not require residence halls originally constructed in another era to have sprinklers, it’s clear that we have to exceed those codes in order to ensure the safety of our students.

Yesterday, investigators continued to work to determine the cause of the fire. They have ruled out an electrical fire, or one caused by a heater or an accelerant, but it is still not clear why the furniture in the basement lounge of Drake caught on fire and resulted in such destruction. The investigators’ final technical report may shed some light into potential causes of the fire; and when we have further information I’ll share it with you. Coincidentally, fire alarms have sounded in other UW-L residence halls recently but there is no relationship to the Drake fire. Please see this website (http://news.uwlax.edu/early-morning-campus-fire-evacuates-drake-hall/) for additional details about these other fire alarms.

I would like to thank the many UW-L staff members who are working so tirelessly to help our students through this very challenging situation. One Drake Hall resident assistant mentioned that Drake may not be a hall at this point, but it remains a great community.



Joe Gow, Chancellor
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse


An update from Nick Nicklaus, Director of Housing: 7 p.m. Monday 1/30

Drake residents:

We now have received confirmation that you can enter Drake Hall to obtain more of your belongings from your room. Drake will be staffed from 7-10 pm MONDAY (Jan. 30) for you to enter the building. You will have just a short period of time to collect items you will need for the next few days. Additional times will be established for you to collect more of your possessions later this week after further inspection has been completed.

Update on Timeline

Unfortunately, the damage to the various mechanical systems of Drake Hall is extensive and will require repairs that are expected to take weeks rather than days. We will not be able to permit occupancy until the building systems are safe and operational and the building has been cleaned. We understand this comes with a disruption to your life here on campus and we are working to identify spaces that can be more long term for you to stay.

We are working on living options for you during this crisis. Some of those options include:

  • A limited number of open spaces are available in other residence halls.
  • Study spaces that have been previously used for overflow housing in Laux, Sanford and Wentz.
  • We are also working with Western Technical College and Viterbo University to identify rooms.
  • Faculty and Staff are also volunteering spaces in their homes in the La Crosse Community.
  • Staying with a friend (whether it be on campus or off campus) or if you live close to La Crosse and can commute please make those arrangements.

We will be in contact with you again tomorrow as plans are finalized. If you still need immediate accommodations please go to the Eagle Hall front desk.

As a reminder, the Office of Residence Life 608.785.8075 has extended its office hours until 9 p.m. for the remainder of this week should you have any questions.

Recent residence hall fire alarms information: 4 p.m. Monday 1/30

After the fire at Drake Hall Sunday morning, a number of people are questioning recent alarms and evacuations of Coate and Angell halls, two other residence halls on campus.

The evacuation of Coate Hall last week came after an entry-way blower began to overheat and smelled hot. The alarm was correctly pulled after someone smelled the blower overheating.  Students were temporarily evacuated until we could ensure that the building was safe.

Sunday around 8 p.m. fire alarms were set off in Angell Hall after a smell coming from a room in the basement was noticed by staff. As a precautionary measure the building was temporarily evacuated until we could ensure resident safety. The smell was the result of smoke from Drake Hall coming through a pipe connecting the two buildings. The pipe has been capped and the building is safe.

Both the Angell and Coate hall evacuations were purely safety precautions.

The incident in Drake reminds all of us of the importance of following fire evacuation procedures. If a fire alarm is sounded, everyone in the building must evacuate.

Update: 3 p.m. Monday 1/30

Access has been temporarily postponed for Drake residents to collect belongings from Drake Hall as officials continue to assess building facilities. We will notify students as soon as access is available again so students can continue to get their possessions. Students are encouraged to watch their e-mail about updates on Drake Hall or to contact the Office of Residence Life with any specific questions they have at 608.785.8075.

Update: 2 p.m. Sunday 1/29

Students from Drake Hall are being escorted to their rooms to pick up personal belongings for a 24-36 hour period.

Beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan., 29, all Drake Hall residents should report to the Desk of Eagle Hall for temporary relocation information.

Residence Life questions should referred to the Res Life Office at 608.785.8075. (After 8 p.m. Sunday – 608.789.9999)

Anyone who has information that they feel may be important to this incident should contact University Police at 608.789.9999.

An early Sunday morning fire in the basement of Drake Hall at UW-La Crosse has left no injuries.

Smoke alarms activated at 4:23 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 29, and the hall was evacuated. Student residents are staying at nearby residence halls and apartments.

The fire was originated and contained in a recreation room in the basement of the hall. Fire investigators say the blaze started in a couch and are looking for a cause. There is extensive water and smoke damage in the area of the fire.

Once the fire was struck out, students needing medicine and other necessary items were escorted back into the hall on an individual basis.

The Student Health Center will be open for students from 1-3 p.m. Sunday and counselors will be available for students at the Recreational Eagle Center (REC).

Residence Life staff are working with campus police and fire officials on a plan to let students return to their rooms as soon as possible.

Sunday morning’s message from Chancellor Joe Gow:

Dear students and colleagues:

I’m writing to let you know that our Drake Residence Hall was evacuated early this morning because of a fire in a basement common area. No one was injured in the incident and all the residents of the building are safe in other residence halls and off-campus apartments.

Right now, investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire, as well as when the residents of Drake will be able to return to their rooms. In the meantime, students who need critical items, such as medications, are being escorted into their rooms on an individual basis to get them.

When we have more details I’ll be sure to share them with you. Hopefully, our Drake residents will soon be able to return to their homes.



Joe Gow, Chancellor
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse