Malfunctioning motor sparked fire at Shepherd U.'s Butcher Center

  • Firefighters were called Wednesday afternoon to the Butcher Athletic Center at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., after a motor that operates a section of bleachers in the Butcher Center gymnasium malfunctioned, causing a fire. The Butcher Center and the adjoining wellness center, pictured above, were closed and Wednesday activities were canceled.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

A small fire Wednesday afternoon in the Butcher Athletic Center gymnasium at Shepherd University prompted authorities to evacuate the building and the school's adjoining wellness center.

No one was injured in the fire, which was reported at 2:41 p.m., according to Shepherdstown Fire Department Safety Officer Danny Thomas and a Jefferson County 911 emergency dispatcher.

Thomas said the cause of the fire was determined to be "electrical in nature."

University spokeswoman Valerie Owens said a motor that operates a section of the folding bleachers in the gymnasium malfunctioned, sparking the fire.

All activities and classes in the Butcher Center and the adjacent Wellness Center were canceled Wednesday night, as were the Shepherd women's and men's basketball games against Alderson-Broaddus College, according to the university.

Personnel from 11 departments responded to the fire, Thomas said.

The doors to the gymnasium were being kept open to ventilate the building from the heavy smoke, but a strong odor remained well after the fire was extinguished. A roof hatch also was opened, and fresh air also was fanned into the building, Thomas said.

Fire crews were pulling out the bleachers to investigate after cutting through a small section to get to the source of the fire, Thomas said.

Thomas said the fire caused a minimum of $10,000 in damage.

The blaze also disrupted the university's switchboard in the Wellness Center, Owens said.

As a result, the university was not able to accept incoming calls to its toll-free number or its 304-876-5000 number, Owens said.

People were allowed to return to the Wellness Center by 5:30 p.m., but the Butcher Center was still closed at that time.

Once people were allowed back into the Wellness Center, the switchboard was expected to be able to receive calls, Owens said.

Those who need to reach someone at the university should attempt to use a direct line, she said.

Owens also directed people to the university's homepage,, or to its Facebook page at for additional updates.

Anissa Myers, a sophomore at Shepherd University, said she was parking her car and about to walk into the building when she saw the fire trucks and students sitting outside.

Myers said she heard that as the bleachers were being lowered, a spark caused them to catch fire.

Students told her their classes had been evacuated, she said.

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