Fire at historical university building prompts questions

Fire at historical university building prompts questions

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Fire at historical university building prompts questions

The roof of the Galatasaray University building has collapsed after fire. The building, which was located in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district, was 142 years old.

The 142-year-old Galatasaray University building burned down on Jan. 22, starting controversy on Istanbul’s firefighting ability.

The historical building caught fire at around 7 p.m. on Jan. 22 with still unknown reasons, and the fire spread quickly because the building, originally called Feriye Palace and built in 1871, is made of wood. Extinguishing the fire took nearly 5 hours despite the fire department’s land and sea approaches to the blaze.

However, there were claims that the officials started signing reports after the initial fire was controlled, only a few minutes before the roof of the building caught fire.

Initial fire

“When we got inside I saw a burning socket and cable. It was so small in the beginning that the firefighters were about to leave. But then in 10 minutes flames had spread everywhere, starting from the ceiling. We couldn’t believe it. We still can’t,” Esra Atuk, an academic at the university who was in the building when the fire started, told the Hürriyet Daily News in front of the school as flames were rising late on Jan. 22.

Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş denied the firefighters writing a such report, and faulted late calling of the fire department.

“The authorities were notified of the fire that broke out at the historical building of Galatasaray University almost 30 minutes late, and firefighters reached the scene six minutes after that,” Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş said yesterday in Istanbul.

“Somebody might have thought that the fire had been put out. Nearly 36 vehicles and a number of teams arrived in six minutes. Istanbul firefighters have the same capabilities as their New York counterparts, and the city has plans to purchase a night helicopter for the firefighters,” Topbaş added to address another criticism after Istanbul Gov. Hüseyin Avni Mutlu admitted the city did not own aerial firefighting helicopters that could be operated at night.

When responding criticism that Istanbul’s buildings were not ready for fires, Topbaş said: “We have already gone through plans for 57 buildings in Beşiktaş in case fires break out.”

Grieving students

The university’s rector, Ethem Tolga, said a probable cause of the fire was faulty wiring. “Our guess is that the fire spread by means of electric cables, in other words in a part of the building that we cannot see.”

When the fire was finally put out, the building’s roof was completely collapsed, much to the grief of students and academics, who have mostly spent the night watching the firefighting efforts.
The University’s students, staff and alumni gathered yesterday in front of the burned university to call for “solidarity.”

“It has been obvious for five years that [there is a desire to sell] all public buildings to the private sector, so that they can replace them with hotels or other profitable investments. Although this is a reality, I don’t think that our building was burned with such an aim, because it is an old, fragile building with weak power infrastructure,” Selcan Serdaroğlu, an assistant professor in International Relations, said.

“My father is 55 years old. He studied in this building when he was a kid. I’ve seen him crying three times in my life. One of those was today, after he saw the building in flames,” said Demet Gül Binan, an undergraduate student at the University.

Turkish Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay said the building will be restored to its original state. “If it’s said that ‘we desire to use this building as a school’ for sure it will be,” he said.

Melda Türkkanlar from the Istanbul bureau contributed to this report.