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Student’s Computer Explodes, Causing Dorm to Evacuate

H.Solomon/The Phillipian

Pictured above is the laptop of Hugo Solomon ’19 that exploded last week. His bluetooth speaker, also pictured above, also caught fire.


When Hugo Solomon ’19 went to sleep last Monday, he didn’t expect to wake up at 1:00 a.m. to find his laptop computer engulfed in flames. According to Solomon, he leapt up from his bed, extinguished the fire with a blanket, and threw the smoking computer to the ground. Solomon, one of two proctors in Alumni House, then ran out to warn and evacuate his dorm mates.

Solomon described his experience as being adrenaline-fueled with a “fight or flight” instinct. Solomon and his Co-Proctor Grace Hitchcock ’20 made sure to evacuate the dorm, which Solomon noted he did without a shirt on.

“I wake up and [my computer is] on fire. And I started screaming, ‘Oh my God. Oh my [expletive] God. My [expletive] computer is on fire’… I just had a lot of adrenaline. I grabbed a blanket and knocked out the fire, but at that point, the fire had spread the floor too… it burned a hole in the floor of my room—the carpet—and at that point, the fire alarm went off. And I evacuated my dorm,” said Solomon.

Solomon’s computer model, a Dell XPS 9650, and other similar models have allegedly had issues with overheating, according to the official Dell complaint forum. When the Andover Fire Department gauged the temperature of Solomon’s computer, they speculated that the battery exploded.

In an email to The Phillipian, Emma Staffaroni, Instructor in English and House Counselor in Alumni House, explained that Solomon’s quick thinking was instrumental in keeping everyone and their belongings safe.

“It was very disorienting because it was the middle of the night. My dog probably heard the commotion before I did. We all scrambled outside in confusion and as we left the building we could smell the smoke. Of course the protocol is to evacuate as quickly as possible and call emergency personnel. Hugo also heroically responded to the fire by dousing it immediately. He saved our lives and also prevented sprinklers from going off, which would have caused major property damage,” wrote Staffaroni.

Since Solomon wasn’t able to stay the nights following the incident in his own room, he stayed with Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students, in her home for one night, and then with Isaiah Lee ’19 and Chris Ward ’19 in Foxcroft Hall until last Saturday.

Lee said, “I’d love Hugo to stay as long as as long as he needs to. We’re happy to have him, he’s a great house guest, super charismatic guy, always got a smile on… I’m flattered that he chose [to stay with] Chris and myself. Perhaps [he] heard that we have a pretty good third roommate setup. We usually have a day student sleep over on the weekends, so we already have a futon and everything set up. So maybe that was part of his reasoning.”

The week of the fire was one of the rare weeks that Solomon had passed fire inspection, which he perceives as a sort of divine intervention that incentivizes him to clean his room in order to pass.

“I’ve failed [fire inspection] ten times this year. See, everyone fails it, but now you know why it’s important. My… fire inspector came into my room and was like, ‘Now you know, now you know,’ and I’m like, ‘I could have died,’” said Solomon.

In the days following, Solomon made sure to address the trauma associated with his experience, spending time in the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center, and finding constructive ways to channel his feelings. Solomon also used personal writing as a tool to help him through recovery.

“I spent a couple hours in Sykes with Dr. [Sandra Lopez-Morales, Director of Psychological Counseling], just getting me through it. And then I took a nap there and just rested, because it really was a lot…what would have happened if I hadn’t woken up? The smoke alarm didn’t go off for a while, the fire could have really spread by then. If I had woken up too late, or if the computer had been anywhere else,” said Solomon.

Solomon continued, “I wrote a lot… that’s been getting me through it, just acknowledging the fact that this is something kind of ridiculous, but also really scary.”

Besides writing, Solomon has also found support in the people around him and has additionally made, and seen, several Internet memes about the incident.

“Everyone has been really supportive to me, especially the [Andover Crew] team because I do crew and I go every day. Even the day that it happened, I still went. And just like it’s really fun to have those people around you that support you and know you like that…I’m happy I have good friends.” said Solomon.

Solomon continued, “People have been making memes about it. One of the best ones I heard today at Senior tea was ‘Why did the computer set fire to the rain? Because it was a dell.’ I think it’s kind of funny. I’m someone that processes stuff besides writing, through humor. And I’ve been filling in my friends on the on the story through my Snapchat.”

After the evacuation, Solomon’s carpet, walls, and clothing had to be cleaned. According to Solomon and Hitchcock, the pungent smell of melted plastic and burnt metal permeated throughout the room prior to cleaning.

Solomon said, “I came back to my room two nights ago, and I boxed up all the stuff in my room because they had to take out the desk, the bed, everything, because they had to replace the carpet because there’s a hole in the carpet from fire. And they sprayed down the walls with something that gets rid of the ash.”

Solomon said that while he missed living in Alumni House for those few days, he appreciated getting the time away from the somewhat traumatic space.

“Everyone in my dorm has been a little shaken, But we’re like a good, very strong bunch. But I thought it’d be good, at least for me, to have some distance between me and my room for a little bit. Just to recalibrate, I guess.” said Solomon.