4 students hurt, 1 seriously, in Denver lab fire

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Posted: Sep 15, 2014 6:46 PM

DENVER (AP) — Four students were burned and one suffered serious injuries Monday after a fire erupted in a Denver high school chemistry laboratory while the teacher was conducting a demonstration with methanol, officials said.

Three students were treated and released from hospitals, and the fourth was transferred to another facility because of the extent of the student's injuries, said Lindsay Neil, a spokeswoman for the Science, Math and Arts Academy charter school.

Neil said she did not have details on that student's injuries or condition. Denver Fire Department spokesman Mark Watson said earlier that one youth had serious injuries.

The teacher, Daniel Powell, suffered minor injuries to his hands and declined medical treatment, Neil said. He was put on paid administrative leave, and the school has suspended lab experiments that involve chemicals or flammable materials.

It was the second time this month that a fire linked to methanol in a science demonstration caused injuries. Thirteen people, many of them children, were hurt in a flash fire at a Reno, Nevada, museum on Sept. 3. An employee applied chemicals in the wrong order in a demonstration simulating a tornado, officials said.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates chemical accidents, issued a warning Monday against using methanol in laboratory and school demonstrations, citing the Nevada fire. It wasn't clear if the warning was issued before the Denver fire, which was reported shortly before 8 a.m.

Two inspectors with the board were on their way to the school, spokeswoman Hillary Cohen said.

No students were handling materials when the fire broke out during a chemistry class that included 10th- and 11th-graders, Neil said.

Asked about the purpose of the demonstration, she said, "We're currently in the process of working with the teacher to understand that as well."

The teacher had conducted the same demonstration several times over the previous couple of days, Neil said. The teacher's employment status would be reviewed after investigations by the Fire Department and Denver Public Schools, she said.

The school, known as the SMART Academy, is part of the Strive Preparatory School network that operates in the Denver system. Neil said it was Powell's first year teaching in the network.

Student David Mathis said he was in the room and saw the fire climb to the ceiling and extend toward the back wall, where the students who were injured were sitting.

"We were all just chaotic," he told KMGH-TV. "We were trying to figure out what just happened. We just saw fire everywhere in the room, too, and we were just trying to put it out and help the students."

The fire appeared to have burned itself out and didn't spread beyond the lab, said Watson, the fire department spokesman. It set off school alarms, prompting an evacuation, but students later returned to classes.

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