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Miami community reflects on FIJI fire, bureau continues arson investigation

By Mekenna Sandstrom
On May 2, 2014

Less than a year ago, May 25 2013, flames engulfed the Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) fraternity house. The structure was severely damaged with a destroyed roof and lost belongings, including clothes, electronics and furniture. Despite the losses and the resulting emotional turmoil, FIJI's members have maintained a strong bond.

"We all came together to work collectively," Andrew Bell, president of the fraternity, said. "The support we gave each other strengthened us and inspired leadership."

Bell also said recruitment this year held solid, despite the absence of a fraternity house.

"We got a really solid pledge class with promising leadership," Bell said. "The class average is around a 3.3 GPA."

The cause of the fire has still not been determined. Bell said investigators still believe the fire was the result of arson. Representatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recently visited the house to analyze the damages from the fire.

"They came in and talked to members that had stuff in the room where the fire started," Bell said. "Then they took some things back to Washington and they want to re-simulate the fire to understand what could have happened."

Since the fire in May, the university and the Interfraternity Council (IFC) have been supporting the fraternity.

"We have worked on developing a house improvement fund, which we hope FIJI will utilize for smaller house improvements once they are moved in," IFC President Sam Crocket said in a statement. "IFC has also worked to connect Fiji with other groups with vacant houses for rental possibilities, which opened the door to the Sigma Chi house."

On Tuesday, FIJI also hosted a fire safety presentation in collaboration with the Oxford Fire Department. Mark Johnson, a responder, discussed the importance of fire safety.

"Everyone is naturally curious about fire," Johnson said. "But it is not something to mess with."

In order to effectively influence the minds of the fraternity members, Johnson also brought up a house fire that occurred off-campus in 2005. Three Miami University students died in the fire.

"I've seen too many dead bodies in my career, guys," Johnson said, holding back tears. "The human life is not replaceable."

The Oxford Fire Department wants to remind students of the importance of playing it safe with fire. It is imperative to follow all fire safety guidelines provided by the university, the fire department and the state, he said. The department also acknowledged how unfortunate the FIJI house fire was, but how fortunate it was at the same time.

"The bad thing about FIJI is that the house was lost," Johnson said. "But the good thing is ... no one died."

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