BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – Around 4:15pm Tuesday smoke alarms began blaring inside the Edwards Commons Dining Hall, and within minutes, flames were rising from the structure.
On Wednesday, students were gathered for a picnic lunch provided by Arkansas State University as the Batesville Fire Department conducted investigations in the charred remains of the building. According to Lyon College President Dr. Donald Weatherman, arson is suspected.
Witnesses say two fires erupted in the dining hall. One was located in a men's room trashcan, and the other was in a linen closet. The trash fire was extinguished, but the second fire quickly spread throughout the building.
Sheriffs' Investigator Jeff Sims says, "Right now we're investigating the fire as a suspicious fire. We know there were two fires that we are looking at right now. The fire is too warm for us to get inside."
On Thursday, State Police investigators are scheduled to help with the investigation.
Fire crews arrived on the scene of Tuesday's fire quickly, but nearly four hours later they were still battling hot spots throughout the building.
Food for the students will be served picnic style for lunches and at a nearby gym for breakfast and dinner. Sodexo is bringing in a temporary kitchen to cook the nearly 800 daily meals. School official expect replacing the building will take up to two years.
Director of Public Relations Bob Qualls says on the night of the fire, students were bused to three area restaurants: Western Sizzlin', China King and Mazzio's. He says they did the same thing Wednesday morning for breakfast.
The Batesville Fire Department says everyone was able to leave the building safely, and the building is considered a total loss. Edwards Commons housed the student life offices, bookstore, campus post office, recreation and meeting rooms, dining hall, and kitchen.