About 60 Otago University students have had to sleep in a library or with friends after a fire in the university's biggest hall of residence in Dunedin at the weekend.

The fire on the second floor of the University College hostel just before 7pm on Saturday was on the same night when another student, Sophia Crestani, was crushed to death in a stampede at a student party in a nearby house.

The fire was believed to have been started by a candle in a student's room on the second floor of the multi-storey complex, which houses about 500 students.

A first-year student who has had to leave her room said none of the students on the second, first, ground and lower-ground floors have been allowed to return to their rooms.

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Fire at University College, University of Otago

"There's about 15 on each floor and there are four floors affected," she said.

"It depends on where your room was. All my clothes in my wardrobe are soaked. Some people have lost laptops and study notes, and it's around exam time so that's really huge.

"They are not letting us in because of the fumes. It's still not safe. We are allowed to go and grab our things but we are definitely not allowed to sleep in there."

She is staying with a friend in Queenstown and is missing the last week of lectures this week before exams start in the middle of this month. She said others were staying wherever they could.

"There are some in the library. They were there last night [Sunday]. Then they re accommodated some other people in some other halls in Dunedin," she said.

"They just said, you decide where you want to be put and they'll keep you out.

"They have told students they can apply for special consideration or get notes off other people if their study notes have been destroyed, and laptops are covered by insurance I'm guessing."

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She said it was "a critical time" just before exams, but most students were "understanding".

"Obviously there's not much you can really do, you have to go with it."

University College head Andy Walne confirmed that 61 rooms had been evacuated but said all affected students were offered a room to sleep in.

"Some students however, preferred to remain on site at UniCol and sleep in temporary arrangements.

"We are currently working with students and the university's property division on a one-on-one basis to return students to their rooms as soon as possible.

"However, we have advised residents and their families late today [Monday] that 18 students on the second floor of the Tower will be unable to return to their rooms for the rest of the year. We are working through long-term accommodation options for them.

"Residents have been advised that where their belongings have been damaged by fire, smoke or water, they will be covered by their parents' contents' insurance. The majority of NZ insurance policies will cover the belongings of dependants while living in a residential college.

"International students affected will be covered by their personal insurance which they are required by the university to have in place while studying.

"The Fire Service is investigating the cause of the fire and a final report has not yet been received.

"A large support team within the university immediately swung into action when the incident occurred. As the university's largest residential college with 501 students it has been a fullscale operation, with students offered a wide variety of support services from mental health, to chaplaincy and academic services.

"Despite the disruption, I am delighted with the response from college students. They have shown maturity in dealing with the situation and in support of each other."