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School fire sends one to hospital, leaves smoke, water damage
GHHS gym fire promptly extinguished
A fire in the boy’s locker room at Granite Hills High School prompted the school’s evacuation and sent one teacher to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation Thursday afternoon.
The fire was promptly extinguished but left behind plenty of smoke and some water damage.
Rich Lambie, an instructor and coach at GHHS, was treated at the scene and taken to Sierra View District Hospital for what appeared to be smoke inhalation symptoms.
Lambie is credited for his fast reaction in preventing the fire from spreading and helping in extinguishing it.
“We have three adults who entered a burning building to make sure our students were safe,” said school principal Apolinar Marroquin. “Mr. Lambie suffered severe smoke inhalation but I’ve been told he’s doing well and expected to be released,” he said Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
According to Ramona Contreras, spokesperson for the hospital, Lambie was in good condition at 5:15 p.m.
“He was close to the fire and took in a large amount of smoke,” said Porterville Fire Department Battalion Chief Glenn Irish.
Lambie could be seen getting medical help from ambulance personnel before he was transferred.
The fire investigation will continue through Friday, Marroquin said, but it appears that the fire was started inside one locker.
Marroquin credits two instructors and the school officer for their prompt action.
“When they saw the black smoke, they sent the students out, pulled the fire alarm, contacted the office by radio, and we contacted emergency,” Marroquin said. “Mr. Lambie tried to put the fire out but it wasn’t working. It started spreading sideways, I don’t know — maybe by the underarm deodorants and colognes and who knows what else is in there. He couldn’t contain it and the smoke was getting too thick. That’s when Officer Mark Lightfoot crouched down under the smoke and entered and instructed [the two teachers] out.”
By luck, he said, fire personnel were in the immediate area and arrived in less than two minutes to extinguish the fire.
“They responded immediately and contained the fire,” Marroquin said. “All of the students were safe. Our staff responded and students were great. They followed directions.”
In all, an approximate 1,100 students were safely evacuated from the school.
“It was a small fire in the boy’s locker room. The fire is out. [Lambie] grabbed a fire extinguisher and applied it to the fire in a valor, aggressive effort,” Irish said. “It was not fully extinguished and the lockers were forced open. It appears there is fire damage to three lockers and smoke and water damage to many more. There is a considerable amount of smoke. All of the clothes are permeable with smoke. The material on fire was the contents of the gym locker — clothes.”
Responding to the scene were three engines, one patrol unit, two Battalion Chiefs, and an arson investigator from Porterville Fire Department; and one engine from Tulare County.
Two Porterville Fire Department Engines were in the area conducting hydrant checks and quickly arrived at the scene.
“We’re ventilating for about 20 to 30 minutes,” Irish said. “The investigation will go on for at least an hour.”
The fire was reported just after 2 p.m. and students were allowed back to class about 30 minutes later.
Students wearing gym shorts and T-shirts sat on the bleachers at Jacob Rankin Field.
The students said they were about to begin lifting weights when they smelled smoke and informed an instructor. When they opened a door leading to the lockers, a lot of smoke escaped, they said. That was when they were promptly escorted out of the building.
Along the way, a fire-alarm was pulled, resulting in the evacuation of the entire staff and student population, several of them carrying American flags, to several areas of open space surrounding the school.
At Jacob Rankin Field, numerous students wearing gym shorts and T-shirts, sat in the shade, waiting for the all-clear to return to class.
Though the all-clear was offered at 2:27 p.m. for most students, the clearance did not apply to anyone from the gymnasium; and the students said they believed they would remain in their gym clothing until the end of the school day.
The girls got the all clear about a half hour later, Marroquin said, but the boys had to wait longer.
“The fire captain had to rope off a section off. We had water polo, volleyball and football tonight. All those students had to be escorted in to get their things,” Marroquin said. “We still don’t know the extent of the damage because the fire went lateral. We can see fire marks on the ceiling.”
Marroquin said they should know more today.
“It was like running a drill on the first days of school but this time, it was real,” Marroquin said. “Since 9/11 we have heightened our emergency drills. We practice once a month and the kids know exactly what to do. We also have a great staff that stepped up to direct and lead.”
The fire remains under investigation by the Porterville Fire Department.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.