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Ed Comeau, Publisher
Campus Firewatch
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ecomeau@campus-firewatch.com

Student dies in off-campus fire at University of North Dakota

Cause of the fire was unattended cooking

BELCHERTOWN, Mass. March 19, 2014 – Matthew Heisler, 21, a student at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, died from an early morning fire on Sunday, March 16, 2014. The fire occurred in an off-campus, one-story, wood frame house, according to the Grand Forks Fire Department. The fire was reported at 2:40 a.m. and the fire department reported that there was heavy smoke and fire upon arrival and that the smoke alarms were sounding as they entered the building. There was one victim outside of the building that was being treated by responders from the University of North Dakota Police Department and the local EMS department. According to media reports, but unconfirmed by official sources at this time, Heisler’s roommate, Ryan Nelson, came home and found the fire burning and was able to pull Heisler out of the building.

Matthew Heisler was flown to a hospital in Minneapolis where he died on Tuesday. According to a university spokesman, Heisler was from Lakeville, Minnesota, and was a sophomore in the College of Business and Public Administration.

The cause of the fire was determined to be unattended cooking and the fire caused extensive fire damage in the kitchen and heavy smoke damage throughout the rest of the structure. Damage was estimated to be approximately $80,000.

This is the third fatal fire of the 2013/2014 academic year. Since 2000, 165 people have been killed in campus-related fires, with 87% of them occurring in off-campus occupancies, according to information compiled by Campus Firewatch. Common factors in a number of these fires include:

  • Missing or disabled smoke alarms
  • Careless disposal of smoking materials
  • Lack of a second exit
  • Fires starting in couches on porches or decks

Since 2000, there has been a definite downward trend to campus-related fire deaths since its peak in 2006-2007 with 20 fatalities, but off-campus housing is still the greatest risk where over four out of five fire deaths occur. The last fatal fire in a fraternity was 2006 and the last residence hall fire death occurred in 2005, a testimony to the strong efforts being made by schools and communities across the country.

Information on campus fire safety is available from Campus Firewatch, including a Campus Firewatch Information Sheet, a map showing the locations and details of campus-related fires since 2000 as well as educational material, including the video documentary 9 Fires.

Recent Fatal Campus-Related Fires

  • University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND Sophomore Matthew Heisler was killed in an off-campus fire
  • Frostburg State University/Frostburg, MD Lateef Gazal was killed in an off-campus house fire
  • Purdue University/West Lafayette, IN  A student, Scott Notary, was killed in an off-campus house fire. 
  • Boston University/Boston, MA A student, Binland Lee, was killed in an off-campus fire that occurred across the street from the 2012 fire that injured a number of BU students, one critically.
  • University of Massachusetts/Amherst, MA  A student was killed on January 18 in an off-campus apartment fire.
  • University of Cincinnati/Cincinnati, OH   Ellen Garner died on January 14 andUni Chad Kohls died on January 7 from an off-campus fire that had broken out on New Year’s Day.  
  • St. Cloud State University/St. Cloud, MN Kyle Kopischke was killed in an off-campus apartment fire.  The fire started in the kitchen area and is believed to be accidental.
  • University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, WI Two students were killed and two more injured in an off-campus apartment fire. 
  • University of Memphis/Memphis, TN  Paul Horbelt, a sophomore, was killed in an off-campus apartment fire.  The cause of the fire is under investigation at this time.
  • Southern Illinois University Edwardsville/Edwardsville, Illinois  A fire in an off-campus house has killed two students. The students have been identified as Lauren D. Petersen, age 19, of Timberwood Drive, Bethalto, Illinois and Lacy V. Siddall, age 21, Briarwood Drive, Bethalto, Illinois.  The preliminary investigation points towards a power strip and laptop as the possible cause of the fire.  Initial reports are that the smoke alarm did not have a working battery in it.
  • Marist College/Poughkeepsie, NY  On Saturday, January 21, three students were killed in an off-campus house at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.  The cause of the fire is still under investigation.