Auditorium fire cancels classes


LAPORTE – A very smoky accidental fire early Wednesday morning in the auditorium at the Sullivan County Junior-Senior High School on South Street canceled all classes for the district until at least Friday.

“Smoke was throughout the entire high school, in every classroom,” Laporte Fire Chief Daniel Morrison said.

“Had the fire gone undetected another half hour, the situation could have been a lot worse,” Morrison said.

There were no reports of injuries.

The fire was discovered about 6 a.m. by a member of the the school district’s maintenance staff, Morrison said. Upon discovering the smoke, the staff member pulled a fire alarm, he added.

There was heavy smoke coming from the east entrance of the one-story complex, said Morrison, who responded on a fire truck with two other firefighters.

The entrance led to the school’s gym and auditorium, which has a very high cathedral dome-like ceiling, Morrison said.

Donning self-containing breathing apparatuses, two firefighters carried a hose into the school while Morrison ran the fire truck’s pump operations.

One of the firefighters also had a thermal-imaging camera that was instrumental in leading the two to where the fire was actually located.

“The smoke was so intense that the firefighters couldn’t see anything. There was a lot of heat. It was over 800 degrees in the auditorium,” Morrison said.

A thermal imaging camera helps firefighters see the area that is actually on fire through the smoke, Morrison explained.

The camera led the pair of firemen to an electrical panel box near a stage that was the origin of the fire, Morrison said. The electrical box serves the auditorium’s lighting and lighting controls.

“Once the fire was located, it was actually put out in five to seven minutes. It was a quick knock down,” Morrison said.

However, firefighters spent a good part of the morning clearing smoke from the school. “We used a lot of exhaust fans,” Morrison said.

Volunteer firefighters from Laporte, Eagles Mere, Muncy Valley, Mildred, Dushore and Hughesville responded on the initial call.

Morrison had called for additional manpower and equipment to the scene from Picture Rocks as well as two aerial fire trucks, one from Muncy Area and another from Montoursville because “when we arrived on the scene, there was smoking pushing right from the roof.”

However, with the source of the fire being quickly located at the electrical panel box, there was no need for the aerial truck, so Montoursville was recalled while Muncy Area stood-by at the Muncy Valley firehouse to handle any other emergencies in the region.

With the assistance of a state police fire marshal, Morrison said investigators determined the fire was electrical in nature. No damage estimate has been set.

He estimated that the fire could have been burning anywhere from 30 minutes to more than hour before it was discovered. Had it gone undetected much longer, not only would the fire have been more intense, but the response time of the firefighters would have been delayed because many of them would have already left the area for work.

“An electrical engineer will have to inspect the school’s entire electrical system. A structural engineer will have to inspect the integrity of the roof over the auditorium,” Morrison said, adding that it may be several days before investigators have a clear indication as to the extent of damage caused by the fire.

The school is equipped with an automatic fire alarm system, but it was unknown why none of the alarms went off with the amount of smoke that was filling the building, Morrison said.