Michael Suguitan / Sun Staff Photographer

A fire on the third floor of 804 East State St. temporarily displaced 9 track and field athletes on Monday.

March 13, 2017

Collegetown Fire Displaces 9 Track and Field Athletes

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After a fire caused moderate damage to a Collegetown house and displaced nine Cornell track and field athletes who rented the building, team members said the team’s ability to cope with the unexpected event showed the closeness of the group.

No one was injured in the fire, which began around 3 p.m. on Monday in a corner of the third floor near the roof of the house at 804 East State Street, Ithaca Fire Chief Tom Parsons said.

Flames extended from the roof shortly after 3, but the fire was put out in about 30 minutes, Parsons said. The nine athletes in the house are all long-distance runners for the team, a resident said.

Parsons said investigators have not yet determined how the fire began, but several residents told The Sun it was likely an electrical fire, noting that it occurred in a little-used crawl space.

The fire began around 3 p.m. and was extinguished around 3:30, Ithaca's fire chief said.

Michael Suguitan / Sun Staff Photographer

The fire began around 3 p.m. and was extinguished around 3:30, Ithaca’s fire chief said.

Patrick Murphy ’19 was one of two track and field athletes inside the house when the fire began, and said by the time he smelled smoke, firefighters were already at his front door, preparing to enter.

“I did start to smell smoke, and by the time I realized what was going on, I just got dressed, and the fire department was already coming in by the time I was coming out,” he told The Sun, adding that he and another resident exited the house “completely unscathed.”

Matthew McGowen ’19, a resident and member of the track and field team, told The Sun that the third floor consists of a kitchen and a small common area, but no bedrooms. The fire chief said there is “quite a bit” of damage to the second and third floors on the northwest side of the house.

Late on Monday night, McGowen said he and other athletes were told by the fire department that they should not enter the house, although he expected to be able to gather belongings soon.

The fire at 804 East State St. caused "quite a bit" of damage to the second and third floors, Chief Tom Parsons said.

Michael Suguitan / Sun Staff Photographer

The fire at 804 East State St. caused “quite a bit” of damage to the second and third floors, Chief Tom Parsons said.

Residents said they were staying either in a cross-country house nearby or with other friends in Collegetown for the next few nights.

“The best thing is how [the fire] highlights how we have each other’s back in these type of situations,” McGowen said. “We had practice right after the fire happened and everyone was offering houses and favors.”

Murphy said the house’s landlord was already working on living arrangements for the next few nights.

“We’ve got a big team — we’ve got a great team — and we’re all going to be staying with friends for at least a night or two,” he said.

One member of the team was on the third floor, where the fire began, McGowen said, and called 911 when he saw smoke coming from the crawlspace. The tiny space is generally empty, McGowen said, and residents almost never use it, leading him and others to believe the fire was electrical and caused by wiring.

Firefighters cut a hole in the wall of the house to insert a hose up to the third floor and quickly extinguish the fire, and another wall inside the house was cut open for the hose to enter, McGowen said.

There is also water damage on the first floor as water from the firefighters’ hoses percolated down from the third and second floors.

The Cornell Spring Invitational is more than a week away, but the fire comes at a time when many of the residents have midterms.

“I’m hoping my professors will grant me some extensions,” Murphy said. “I’m sure they will, considering my house just caught on fire today.”

The road was closed for about two hours, but normal traffic resumed shortly after 5.

Michael Suguitan grad contributed reporting to this article.