Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the building…
Less than two hours after a trash can fire sent LHS students and staff out in the cold Thursday morning, a second fire sent them scrambling again. This time some wrestling mats by the South Gym caught fire sending flames and smoke high into the air. No one was hurt, but the damage and smoke prompted officials to cancel school for the rest of the day.
PE teacher Dan Beckman was alerted to the fire by a student. “I was at the end of the South Gym hallway, and I could see the flames from there,” Beckman said. “So I told a student to grab the fire alarm while I went to try to find a fire extinguisher or something to put it out with.”
Quick-thinking staff members, including Athletic Director Pat Gatzmeyer, Assistant Athletic Director Richard Bollen, PE teachers Stewart Venbable, Mark Macke, Beckman, and wrestling coach Andy Genrich, put the blaze out with coolers full of water from the training room. Their biggest concern was that the flames would reach higher and spread. “We ended up tipping [the mats] over,” Genrich said. He and other teachers dragged the still-smoldering mats outside to safety.
One mat was completely destroyed, and at least two more were scorched. “A whole mat costs between $7,000 and $8,000,” Genrich said.
Meanwhile, students were stranded outside the building in near-freezing temperatures and frigid winds for nearly half an hour waiting for fire fighters to give the all clear. They never did.
School was canceled for the rest of the day, along with after school and evening activities, including the Bands Against Bullying, and students weren’t allowed back into any part of the building. Their belongings will be locked up in teacher’s classrooms until 1 p.m. today when students (escorted by teachers) can retrieve them. Otherwise, students will collect their things tomorrow morning at the beginning of the school day.
The swim meet that was to be held at LHS was moved to Southeast. The Winter Spirit Rally that was scheduled for tomorrow will continue as planned at this point, according to Principal Mike Wortman.
The investigations into both fires are ongoing. School officials are asking anyone with information about either situation to contact them.