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Vacant, quake-damaged fraternity house destroyed in fire

STANFORD -- Stanford's Delta Tau Delta fraternity house - vacant since it was severely damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake - was burnt to the ground early Friday, Oct. 11, in a spectacular fire that an official said appeared to be arson.

No one was injured in the blaze, which left nothing standing but the northeast and southeast walls of the three-story house on the corner of San Juan and Dolores streets. The fire broke out at approximately 2 a.m.

"I was awake, talking with an old friend, when I heard someone outside yelling - so I shut my window," said senior Aaron Racine, president of the nearby Theta Xi fraternity, which is nicknamed "Taxi."

"Then I heard them yell, 'Taxi, Taxi - the Delt house is on fire!' so I looked out, and sure enough, it was. It was the biggest fire I've ever seen."

By the time firefighters arrived, minutes later, the wood- frame structure was completely engulfed in flames leaping 60 feet into the air. Units from Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Mountain View were called in to fight the blaze.

"The fire spread amazingly fast," Racine said. "We were all standing about 100 yards away, and the heat was really unbearable - you could have roasted a marshmallow. Our biggest fear was that the heat would cause the dry leaves in our own trees to ignite."

Grabbing hoses, Theta Xi members worked quickly to spray water on their own roof, and on the tinder-dry hill that separates the two houses. A crowd of several hundred students and faculty residents gathered to watch the scene from the base of the hill, on Mayfield Avenue.

At dawn, firefighters were still spraying water to cool the structure's basement.

"In my opinion, this was caused by human design," Ray Gamma, Stanford fire marshal, said later Friday morning. "The house had no electrical or gas service."

When the site cools down in several days, representatives from the state fire marshal's office will examine it to seek the exact cause of the blaze. They will be assisted by a dog trained to sniff out flammable liquids.

Popular with football and baseball players, the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house was closed after the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake knocked down its chimneys and twisted its beams. The 40 fraternity members now are housed at 353 Campus Drive (formerly Zeta Psi).

Stanford administrators decided in January 1991 to demolish, rather than repair, the old Delt house and its damaged next-door-neighbor, Synergy House, after learning that restoration would cost about $1.5 million for each building.

The decision prompted protests by some students and alumni, most of them former residents of Synergy, who formed a group called the Committee to Save the Hill Houses. The group presented several legal challenges to the planned demolition, including one that required the university to reapply for demolition permits that already had been approved by Santa Clara County. Those new permits are still in process.



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