CSUN Blaze Chars Rare Documents : Fire: Rare books and papers in history faculty trailer are lost. Short-circuit in air conditioner is blamed.


An electrical fire Tuesday swept through a trailer temporarily housing some of Cal State Northridge's history faculty, scorching the building and charring dozens of rare books and papers.

No one was hurt in the midday blaze, which officials said appeared to have been caused by a short-circuit in an air conditioner.

Professors were still sorting through the wreckage Tuesday afternoon. "I don't know what I have lost," Prof. Shiva Bajpai said, wondering about the fate of several slides and videocassettes shot in India. "That's the sad part of it."

Los Angeles city firefighters were called to the blaze shortly before 1 p.m., department spokesman Bryan Humphrey said. The fire was extinguished about 1:19 p.m., and although no one was hurt, the fire scorched a trailer, charred the side of a second and melted several windows in another nearby trailer, CSUN spokeswoman Carmen Ramos Chandler said.

Between eight and 10 professors had offices in the trailer, Chandler said.

"The air conditioning was going a mile a minute this morning," Prof. Gloria Lothrop said as she and her colleagues tried to get a handle on the losses, which Chandler put at $50,000 in structural damage.

Bajpai worried that some of his rare first editions of books on medieval India may have been damaged. Prof. Ronald Davis feared that he may have lost six years of research by his students on the history of Natchez, Miss., as well as a few historical documents from the town and copies of a book he wrote.

Fortunately, Davis said, many of his unique Natchez documents--including 19th Century photographs to go on display next month--were stored in another building.

Many professors said they were supposed to have been moved out of the temporary trailers, which were put in after last year's Northridge earthquake.

"The real tragedy is that we hadn't moved out of those trailers by now," Davis said.

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