Kincaid Hall before its March 24 fire.

Kincaid Blaze Destroys Lab; Evolution Research in Ashes

A zoologist's research went up in flames March 24 as a two-alarm fire caused more than $225,000 in structural damage to a fifth-floor laboratory in Kincaid Hall.

Zoology Professor Joel Kingsolver, an evolutionary biologist, lost a collection of 10,000 North and South American butterflies as well as research data on the feeding and digestion of caterpillars and a study of the evolution of butterfly wings and body shapes.

He estimates the loss of lab equipment to be an additional $250,000. Kingsolver was particularly concerned about the setback to his three graduate students and a postdoctoral fellow in the lab. "It's a more critical stage in their careers than it is for me," said the 44-year-old professor, who has been at the UW since 1986.

The Seattle Fire Department said the fire was an accident, caused by a lab hot plate that was inadvertently left on. The blaze was so intense that three firefighters suffered second-degree burns when kneeling on the concrete floor to fight the fire. The fire department's $225,000 damage estimate may go higher as the UW rebuilds the building's top floor this summer.

Rooms below the Kingsolver lab some sustained water damage, but the loss of data was minimal. One lab belongs to Professor Emeritus W.T. Edmondson, who has conducted a 45-year study of Lake Washington. Most of the important historical papers and documents from his long career have survived. Firefighters placed tarps over equipment on lower floors to reduce water damage.

"Firefighters and University staff went beyond the call of duty and protected valuable libraries, data and equipment from potential damage," said Zoology Chair Robert Paine in a statement to the press. "In doing so, they saved many research and teaching programs as well as valuable equipment. Their efforts also saved all the animals housed in the building."

Kincaid Hall was built in 1971 and contains sprinklers only in the basement. However, the fire alarms worked and the fire safety doors prevented damage to adjoining labs.

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