Fire forces Owatonna High School evacuation

Published 10:15 am Thursday, June 5, 2014

By Al Strain

Owatonna People’s Press

OWATONNA — A fire that started in the Owatonna High School auditorium on Wednesday afternoon forced the evacuation of the entire school and an early dismissal for students.

Email newsletter signup

No one was injured in the blaze, said Owatonna Fire Chief Mike Johnson. The fire started in the auditorium curtains at about 12:30 p.m.

The fire caused the sprinkler system in the auditorium to be activated, which contained the fire. The fire was extinguished quickly by the Owatonna Fire Department once firefighters arrived on scene.

While the fire and water damage was limited to the stage and auditorium, the smoke caused damage in the southeast corner on the lower level of the school, Johnson said.

All the students were safely evacuated, and officials made the decision to cancel the rest of the school day shortly after the evacuation. Students who had cars were free to leave, while other students were taken to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and Trinity Lutheran Church, both near the school, until the end of the school day at 2:30 p.m.

“The teachers worked well to get everyone out of that area,” Johnson said.

Buses were scheduled to run on time, but the students were picked up on East Academy Street, one block north of the school.

Johnson said the cause of the fire is still under investigation and the State Fire Marshal’s Office has been called in to investigate, which is part of a normal procedure, he said. The Owatonna Police Department will also offer aid in the investigation.

Owatonna school district superintendent Peter Grant said classes would begin on time on Thursday, but OHS teachers and staff were working on determining where to send students because the fire interrupted classes that were going on.

Grant was pleased with how well students and staff executed the evacuation.

“Book bags, calculators and books are open and assignments are all open on the desks. Everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do,” Grant said. “The fire system worked exactly how it was supposed to work. If it hadn’t we would have had bigger problems.”

Johnson agreed, saying that the fire showed that the systems in place worked exactly as they were supposed to.

“Having good code enforcement, having a good sprinkler system in place and an alarm system that works, that prevented what could have been a tragic fire and a big loss for our community,” Johnson said.