GORHAM — The arson fire that forced the evacuation of a University of Southern Maine dormitory early Monday has left some students anxious.

“I’m living in a dorm where somebody’s trying to burn you down,” said Alex Belanger of Dayton, echoing a concern expressed by a few students.

But Alex Avery of Winthrop isn’t worried. “I think people are just being stupid,” she said. She said there were a lot of people up and about, excited about the first weekend of school even though it was 2:30 a.m. when the fire alarm sounded and everyone had to leave.

The fire broke out in a recycling closet in Upton-Hastings Hall and the dorm was evacuated. Students were allowed to return at 5 a.m. An investigator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire was set, though a sprinkler quickly doused it. 

Danielle Dalton of Saco said she was walking casually out of the building when one of the resident assistants urged her on, saying it was a real fire. In the stairwell, she could smell smoke and hear water falling.

Her cousin, Marnie Lantagne of Arundel, is a firefighter’s dream. She had studied the evacuation diagram on the back of her dorm door and instructed her fellow students which stairwell to use for the evacuation.

Many students said they grabbed their phones when the alarm went off – to see who was calling, or to turn off their morning alarms.

The fire that forced 200 students from a dorm at the University of Southern Maine was set intentionally, said Bob Caswell, USM Public Affairs spokesman.“When the state fire marshal (investigator) left this morning, he did tell me that there is no doubt the fire was set intentionally. I had no more information when he left,” Caswell said at 11:30 a.m.

The fire in a recycling closet in Upton-Hastings Hall was reported at 2:37 a.m. Monday when a sprinkler system went off inside the closet. Investigator Dan Young with the Office of the State Fire Marshal was at the scene after it was put out, Caswell said.

Students were evacuated from Upton-Hastings Hall, including freshmen who moved into the dorm for the first time on Saturday. There was no fire or smoke damage outside the closet and all rooms are inhabitable, Caswell said.

The last time there was a fire in a dorm at USM was 12 years ago in Dickey Wood Hall. Caswell said that fire was caused by arson when a student set fire to a trash bin.

“Any student who faces a criminal charge like arson would face a whole range of sanctions from the university, up to and including expulsion,” Caswell said.

Upperclassmen moved into Upton-Hastings Hall Sunday. Classes for all students begin Tuesday.

USM resident hall staff and campus councilors are ready should new students need any counseling, Caswell said.