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Massive Pratt Institute Fire Destroys Student Work

By  Trevor Kapp and Aidan Gardiner | February 15, 2013 7:11am | Updated on February 15, 2013 12:46pm

CLINTON HILL — Pratt Institute students were devastated after a predawn fire tore through the top floor of the school's 126-year-old Main Building Friday morning and destroyed irreplaceable student work stored there.

Classes in the building were canceled Friday morning after the massive fire erupted about 2:15 a.m. on the top floor of 200 Willoughby Ave., the main building on Pratt Institute's Brooklyn campus, which houses studios, classrooms and administrative offices, Pratt and FDNY officials said.

Maria de Los Angeles, a 24-year-old painting major from Santa Rosa, Calif., said she's financially ruined because the blaze destroyed all her paintings and prints, which were stored in one of the many studios there used for senior thesis projects.

"I was planning to sell these to pay my bills. That’s what I do every summer. But now I don’t have anything left to work with. I lost everything," de Los Angeles said, briefly pausing to hold back tears.

She lost between $3,000 and $5,000 worth of work, she said.

De Los Angeles attends Pratt on several scholarships and her mother makes about $800 a month working on a farm in California, de Los Angeles said.

"I come from a poor family. They're not going to be able to pay to help me," said said. "It's a big hit. I can paint fast and come up with new work, but financially it hurts."

Other Pratt students expressed sympathy for those who lost the art they worked tirelessly to create.

"They spent six to eight months working on it. They can't just create it again," said Andreana Bitsis, a 22-year-old photography senior. "It's the worst thing that could catch on fire. It's really sad."

The blaze quickly engulfed the building and raged for two hours before it was brought under control at 4:11 a.m., the spokesman said.

"The fire was huge. There was a lot of smoke. The clouds were really thick," 21-year-old design junior Anna Walant said at the scene. "It was terrifying."

"It was a very old building, very high ceilings on the top floor, 15-foot ceilings. There was a lot of overhauling involved. We had a partial roof collapse on the top floor. We also asked the fire marshals to respond and investigate because of the heavy fire on arrival," fire Chief James Esposito told NY1.

Pratt's Main Building has experienced fires in its past, including once in 1910 and again in 1968. Another fire destroyed nearby Higgins Hall, also part of Pratt, in 1996.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries Friday's blaze and were taken to the Brooklyn Hospital Center, according to the FDNY. Another person was apparently injured but refused medical treatment at the scene, the spokesman said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Others took to Twitter during and after the blaze to offer support for those who lost irreplaceable school work. 

"My school in flames," said Twitter user Larissa about 6:26 a.m. "Sorry to all who lost their artwork."

"Walking by the Main Building of #Pratt this morning was so shocking," Becca Travis tweeted about 9:15 a.m. "Such a tragedy. It's actually incomprehensible."