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Three-Alarm Blaze Guts UC Santa Cruz Genetic Research Lab

SANTA CRUZ, Calif., Jan. 14 - A four-story genetics research building at the University of California, Santa Cruz remains shut as officials continue to investigate a fire that swept through the top floor of Sinsheimer Laboratories here early on Friday morning.


"The fire is still under investigation. We have no word yet on the cause," Tim Stephens, a UC Santa Cruz public information officer, said on Monday.


No injuries were reported, but several buildings in the Science Hill area of the campus were closed on Friday. They have reopened since then.


The three-alarm blaze, which initially triggered a heat-detection system on campus at about 5:30 a.m Pacific Standard Time, destroyed everything in the research labs of biologists Manuel Ares and Jane Silverthorne, Stephens said. The university has not released an estimate of the loss but said it included computers and genetic research.


Ares is chair of the Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. He could not be reached for comment on Monday. "It was pretty devastating for his lab," Stephens said. 


In a report on the UC Santa Cruz Web site, Ares, who stood outside the building as it burned, expressed "grave concern about the impact the lost research would have on his 10-person research team, especially the group's four graduate and four undergraduate students," the spokesman said.


Ares' work was related to the Human Genome Project and many of the genetic data in his lab took 14 years to develop and could take that long to replace, he said in reports to local media.

Some 65 firefighters and 15 trucks from five units—the UC Santa Cruz Fire Department; the City of Santa Cruz; City of Scotts Valley; Aptos; and the Central Fire Department in Capitola-Soquel—battled the blaze, which was put out around noon on Friday, officials said. A HazMat team led by the university's Health and Safety Department also made an appearance. 

The California Department of Forestry and the State Fire Marshall's Office is conducting an investigation, said Stephens.

The fire occurred nearly one month after a blaze broke out at the Princeton University DNA sequencing and synthesizing lab. That fire damaged two tables in a room on the first floor of Moffett Hall, in the molecular biology department, a Princeton Borough Fire Department official said at the time. No injuries were reported.

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