Hookah to blame for MU fraternity fire, officials say

Monday, February 23, 2009 | 3:51 p.m. CST; updated 5:09 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Firefighters respond to a structural fire at the Sigma Chi fraternity on Sunday night. At appoximately 8:41 p.m. a fire broke out in a third floor room. The Columbia Fire Department was able to contain the fire to the room. No residents were injured.

CORRECTION: An unattended hookah was the cause of the fire at Sigma Chi on Sunday night. Also, Dan Heger, another occupant of the house, then found a fire extinguisher on the first floor and used it to minimize flames. A previous version of this story misidentified the object that caused the fire and misspelled Heger's last name.

COLUMBIA — An unattended *hookah caused a fire on the third floor of a MU fraternity Sunday evening, Battalion Chief Steve Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department said. No one was injured in the fire.

The fire started about 8:41 p.m. in room 305, setting off an alarm at the Sigma Chi fraternity house at 500 S. College Ave. , Sapp said.

As Columbia fire crews were responding to the alarm, a caller from the fraternity reported that there was a fire. About 30 fraternity members and guests were evacuating when crews arrived.

Domnic DeFao, a fraternity member who lives in room 306, was first to see the fire around the windowsill, Sapp said. DeFao attempted to put out the fire with water but could not. Dan *Heger*, another occupant of the house, then found a fire extinguisher on the first floor and used it to minimize flames.

Fire fighters found smoke as they entered the third floor and were drawn to room 305 by heavier smoke and intense heat. Sapp said officials were then able to extinguish the fire below the window in the southwest corner of the room.

The damage is estimated to range from $5,000 to $10,000. Damage includes the window, the sill, areas torn out to check wall studs and personal belongings, Sapp said.

A fatality fire occurred in May 1999 on the same floor of Sigma Chi fraternity house.

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Sean Madden February 23, 2009 | 10:39 p.m.

It's "Dominic DeFeo"

(Report Comment)
RinTin Tin February 23, 2009 | 10:40 p.m.

Pretty awful way to end an article... very respectful to the family involved 10 years ago. In fact, this article was awful in general. Kaity: Highly suggested you don't denote your *MISTAKES* with asterisks, nor publish them in the first place. Double-check your work, as well as the line of work you've chosen for your *profession* (asterisks denote mistake in choice of profession).

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr February 24, 2009 | 4:04 a.m.

How ironic that dope made somebody into a dope.

They do not call it dope for no reason.

(Report Comment)
Jake Sherlock February 24, 2009 | 8:00 a.m.


It is our policy to correct errors in online stories with an asterisk. The idea is that it more easily helps readers identify where information had been corrected. You can read our full online corrections policy here:

Additionally, I'd like to thank Justin J. for his thoughtful comment about the errors made in this article.

Jake Sherlock
Opinion editor

(Report Comment)
Julie Terry February 24, 2009 | 11:18 a.m.

People don't typically smoke 'dope' out of hookahs. It's flavored tobacco that has multiple names, depending what part of the world you're in. Also, smoking 'dope' out of a hookah significantly wastes the product. Any 'dope-head' would know this.

(Report Comment)
Chad Day February 24, 2009 | 11:37 a.m.

@ Mr. Tin Tin,
Please note that the incorrect spellings and cause were not due to reporting errors on Ms. Kerwin's part. If you are looking to attribute them to someone you can place the blame on me, the assigning editor of the story.

The spellings of the names were originally described in a news release from the Columbia Fire Department.

Ms. Kerwin made multiple attempts utilizing various tools to fact-check the names, including double-checking the names with the fire department which was the deciding factor is continuing with publishing of the story.

During her conversation with fire officials, the cause of the fire was described incorrectly and was later pointed out by a person who lived in the fraternity house. His information was then double-checked with the fire department and confirmed. A similar approach was taken to verifying the correction of the spelling of the names.

While none of this excuses inaccuracies in news reports, such as this, I wanted to give readers a better idea of the effort that Ms. Kerwin exerted attempting to verify this story. As news stories develop, information may change, and in this case it changed dramatically after consultation with the investigating organization.

Informing the community of how its news is reported and edited is an important part of journalism and this conversation is never discouraged with any of our stories. We are always open to hearing from our community.

If you would like to continue this conversation with me, send me an e-mail at


Chad Day
Assistant City Editor

(Report Comment)
RinTin Tin February 24, 2009 | 3:07 p.m.

Thanks for the explanations, editors. Didn't realize all that Kaity had to go through, and certainly didn't stop to think the inaccuracies could have come from elsewhere. Thanks!

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