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Pepperdine's O.C. Campus Damaged in Blaze


IRVINE — Arson investigators and business people spent Sunday picking through the charred wreckage of a commercial building that houses Pepperdine University's Orange County campus and several other offices, authorities said.

The massive $2-million fire destroyed about half of the 15-year-old, 90,000-square-foot building at 2125 Michelson Drive. It was discovered at 10:37 p.m. Saturday by a passing shuttle bus driver from the nearby Irvine Holiday Inn, said Capt. Dan Young of the Orange County Fire Department. Some of the rest of the building was still usable, he said.

Had the building been modernized with up-to-date sprinkler systems or smoke detectors, the damage might have been less, Young said.

"This was the biggest fire we've had this year. . . . The fire burned virtually half of the building, a huge commercial structure, and was literally wrapping around the courtyard," Young said. "Our problem was that it was built so long ago, it didn't have any protection systems."

No one was injured, but it took 127 firefighters 90 minutes to control the blaze that was billowing out of windows of the two-story structure by the time firetrucks arrived, Young said.

It took another six hours to extinguish the blaze, and the wreckage was still smoldering and hot Sunday morning, Young said. Fire officials estimated the damage at more than $2 million to about 40,000 square feet of the structure.

Because of the age of the building, there was no requirement that it be equipped with smoke detectors or interior sprinkler systems. Ironically, the building had been purchased in April and the new owners have been "working for the past few weeks to get a design for a fire protection system," Young said.

"A smoke detector or anything else that's monitored would have limited the damage," Young said. "If it would have had sprinklers, when we got there it would have probably been only a maintenance concern."

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but officials, who first strongly suspected arson, are now not so sure, Young said.

"At first investigators were suspicious because (the fire started) in an unoccupied commercial building in the middle of the night. But now we are leaning toward something related to one of two suites being renovated," Young said, adding that it could be tied to unfinished painting or woodworking.

Young said the "deepest char," an area where the fire had burned the hottest and longest, was found in the two suites on the north side of the building. The fire spread to four or five offices before it moved up to the second floor, Young said.

Except for excessive smoke damage, the open classrooms of the Pepperdine University adjunct campus--the building's largest occupant--escaped major damage, Young said.

Damaged businesses included 12 to 15 offices for a psychiatrist and firms doing marketing, public relations, mortgage loans and escrows.

"The vast majority of Pepperdine was spared. . . . They could possibly have classes Monday morning," Young said.

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