On June 15, 1991, just days before scheduled improvements were to begin, a lightning bolt split and seared the roof of KU’s Hoch Auditorium, sparking a massive blaze.
“The fire started around 3:20 p.m., shortly after a violent thunderstorm began pelting the Lawrence area with heavy rain and pea-sized hail,” said Kansas Alumni magazine. “The void between the ceiling and the roof … provided nearly 550,000 cubic feet of air. Over 58,000,000 BTU’s of heat were possible with the amount of wood and air present in the void. Add a channel of lightning that is capable of producing heat exceeding 53,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and you have fire.”
At the time, KU said a fire engineer from the Lawrence Fire Department was already on campus to respond to a fire alarm at Watson Library allowing firefighters to reach the Auditorium within minutes.