A University of Houston student is accused of intentionally starting a fire Monday night on the fourth floor of a campus dormitory, causing the temporary displacement of dozens of residents.
Kevin Okofo, 26, was arrested Monday night and charged with arson for his alleged role in the fire, according to Harris County court documents, which say the fire was started by igniting a flammable liquid. In a motion for sufficient bail filed Tuesday morning by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Okofo is alleged to have said he started the fire at the University Lofts, 4200 MLK Blvd., “because he wanted to and because he could.”
Capt. Bret Collier of the University of Houston Police Department said Okofo also is suspected of trying to start a second fire outside of a convenience store in a student common area on campus. He was spotted nearby and arrested by UHPD, according to Collier, who said no injuries were reported at either location.
“It’s worrisome that it happened,” said Faisal Rawas, whose daughter lived at University Lofts last year and was moving back in Tuesday for the start of a new school year. “It just can happen at any time. That’s the scary part, and that the guy was trying do to it somewhere else also. I don’t know what’s the deal.”
Okofo requested to be provided with an attorney and had not been assigned one as of early Tuesday afternoon, according to court documents. He remained in jail as of Tuesday, and a bail amount had not yet been set by a judge, court records show.
Chris Stipes, a spokesperson for the university, said as many as 293 residents and staff members were registered to be in the building at the time of the fire, which occurred shortly after 9 p.m. Monday, according to Collier. All residents were evacuated, and about 60 students accepted an offer for accommodations at other dorms on campus, Stipes said.
The initial fire was “quickly extinguished” by the University Lofts’ fire suppression system, Collier said in a statement released by the university. Stipes said the fire was limited to a “handful” of rooms and hallways on the fourth floor of the building, which has an overall capacity of 1,100. Those impacted rooms remained closed as of Tuesday, according to Stipes, who said the nine-story building had otherwise reopened.
Stipes said he did not yet know the extent of the damages caused by the fire, pending the completion of a cost assessment, adding that the first three floors could have sustained water damage. A spokesperson for the Houston Fire Department said its arson division is investigating the incident.
“The water damage is the most extensive aspect of it,” Collier said. “That’s always going to be true in a building. The actual fire damage will be more contained.”
Sai Ke, a doctoral student at UH who has lived in the building for four years, said he was returning to his second-floor room Monday night when the fire alarm went off and staff began instructing residents to evacuate. Ke said he is among the students who decided to stay in another dorm on campus on a temporary basis, citing water in the hallway on his floor.
“I didn’t see any noticeable fire or smoke,” Ke said. “I’d like to be back and resume my normal life as soon as possible.”
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