Old Main evacuated

By Danielle Rideau
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Lightning strikes, sets ablaze a palm tree outside 114-year-old university landmark

Lightning struck a tree outside of Old Main yesterday afternoon causing a palm tree to catch fire, electrical outages and an evacuation of the historic building.

About 300 people stood outside Old Main around 3 p.m. to watch the Tucson Fire Department extinguish the fire that resulted from a lightning bolt striking a nearby palm tree at 2:55, said University of Arizona Police Department officer Victor Garcia.

Old Main was evacuated, but people remained on the balcony and the surrounding patio.

Garcia said he was in the walkway between the UofA Bookstore and the Student Union Memorial Center to check out an unattended backpack when he heard the lightning strike the tree.

"It sounded like a large explosion," Garcia said, adding that at first he thought the explosion was from the backpack he was sent to investigate.

Garcia said he and officer Kyle Morrison arrived at the scene first and evacuated the building. TFD arrived shortly after and extinguished the fire by 3:10 p.m.

Andrew Stanley, a music education sophomore, said he was riding his bike around the corner when he heard and felt the lightning strike and saw the tree catch fire.

"I saw a clear white lightning bolt hit the tree and the leaves immediately caught fire," Stanley said.

Stanley said he could feel the "boom and vibrations through (his) body" when the bolt struck and said it felt like a nuclear explosion, even though he was riding a bike.

The wind carried some of the fronds down the street, and Stanley said he was burned by a few flying ashes; he said he would not be getting medical attention for the burn.

Students inside the Old Main building heard the lightning striking outside and were asked to evacuate.

Jodi Bunting an office specialist senior in the University Learning Center, said some students were taking their Graduate Record Examinations and Graduate Management Admission Tests when the evacuation took place.

They resumed testing after the building was cleared for entry at 5 p.m., she said.

There was no physical damage to Old Main, but because of the electrical surge, the Dean of Students Office and the University Learning Center lost power to their computers and phone lines, Bunting said.

The power and computer networks were restored by 5 p.m., Bunting said.