Cutting tool accident caused fire at Memorial Union

Attic, roof damaged by fire
Cutting tool accident caused fire at Memorial Union

A fire caused about $10,000 in damage to the attic and roof of Memorial Union on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus Monday morning, according to UW-Madison police.

Firefighters were called to the union at 7:38 a.m., and responding firefighters reported seeing light smoke coming from the side and roof of the building.

Construction workers told firefighters the fire started near the ground level of the theater. Fire officials said the fire worked up a wall and into the attic and roof.

The fire was started by construction on the site, according to UW-Madison police. A worker was using a cutting tool and accidentally ignited flammable materials in the area.

“They were doing kind of the final steps of demolition in the area where they’re trying to remove stuff in the theater to be able to go in and start doing the remodel,” said Sgt. Aaron Chapin, of the UW-Madison Police Department.

The fire was under control 15 minutes after firefighters arrived, and firefighters were at the scene for about an hour and a half, according to the Madison Fire Department.


But fighting the fire didn’t come without challenges.

“We run into other problems, not only access, with temporary fencing and sidewalks and streets closed,” Madison Fire Department spokesman Eric Dahl said. “We also have to be aware of any work they’re doing with the construction. There may be holes in the floor where they’re doing some repair or adding a stairway. If we don’t know where that is, our firefighters could fall through that opening in the construction.”

One firefighter was transported to UW Hospital when he became ill.

UW-Madison police said the damage is from soot, smoke and water. There was no significant structural damage done to the building.

“It’s kind of difficult in a situation like this to see what the actual damage is based on the fact that everything is already gutted from the building or a lot of the stuff has been removed,” Chapin said.

There will be no delay in the construction work, according to a Wisconsin Union official.

“We hope that the historical significance of the Memorial Union isn’t compromised by this,” Chapin added.

The union has been reopened to students, and traffic in the area has returned to normal.