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Fire closes school for the day
Firefighter Brian Hays entered the east entrance to Riverton High School as resource officer Charlie Marshall, RHS principal Joanne Flanagan, and District 25 Superintendent Terry Snyder communicated with the response team after students had been evacuated. School was canceled for the day. Photos by Wayne Nicholls

Fire closes school for the day

Feb 7, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Overheated dryer at RHS blamed; smoke was thick

Local high schoolers got an unexpected day off on Thursday after a dryer fire started in the Riverton High School equipment storage room.

No one was injured in the incident, but school officials said they decided to cancel school due to the large amount of smoke wafting through the building.

"It quickly became obvious we wouldn't be able to bring kids back into the building today," RHS principal Joanne Flanagan said Thursday. "We won't have anyone in the building until tomorrow."

Flanagan said she became aware of the incident at about 9:30 a.m. when the school's fire alarms went off.

"We knew it wasn't planned, because it wasn't a planned drill, so I exited the building to make sure all the kids got out," Flanagan said. "As I exited I could see the smoke."

Students were evacuated to the nearby James H. Moore Career Center, where they waited while police and fire crews responded to the scene. Flanagan said she worked with the officials to find the source of the fire.

"It was difficult to find initially because there was quite a bit of smoke, but they were able to localize it," Flanagan said.

They soon identified a dryer in the school's equipment storage room as the cause. Riverton Volunteer Fire Department chief Mike Hutchison said the machine's heating element seems to have malfunctioned.

"The preliminary findings are that the heating element in the dryer was bad and it caught the contents of the dryer ... on fire," Hutchison said, adding that any flames were contained to the inside the dryer.

"It's not like the room caught on fire," he said.

He doesn't think the building sustained any smoke or heat damage, either.

"It just produced a lot of smoke," he said.

Flanagan said the dryer likely contained uniforms or towels, which were destroyed along with the machine. She was not aware of any reports that the dryer had been acting up before the incident.

Hutchison said one engine company, one tanker and about eight firefighters responded to the scene and extinguished the dryer fire by 10:06 a.m.

They cleared the area by 11:25 a.m., but Flanagan and other school officials already had decided to send students home by then.

Witnesses at the scene said a cheer arose from the student body when activities director Jeremy Hill announced the news at the Career Center.

"We got the buses mobilized and started the check-out process," Flanagan said. "It all went smoothly."

She believes the air quality in the building will be clearer by Friday morning, when classes are expected to resume.

"Everything went well, everyone's safe," Flanagan said. "We'll be back in school tomorrow."

The fire will not affect the Riverton-Lander wrestling match Thursday night, which is scheduled for the Tonkin Activities Center, not the high school.

During her 13 years at RHS, Flanagan said she has never experienced an actual fire incident at the school, though there have been false alarms. She complimented everyone involved for their performance in an emergency.

"The kids were fantastic, the staff was professional and parents were good and patient," Flanagan said. "Everybody did exactly what they needed to do."

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