Investigators from the Tulsa Fire Department and The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms finished their investigation of the Barnard School Fire.
The fire and resulting explosions have been determined to be “accidental” resulting from construction related to the installation of an exhaust vent in the lab area.
The investigation also found the explosion in the building was caused when the fire smoldered in the void between the chemistry lab ceiling and the floor of the room and hallway above. The fire migrated north under the hallway floor into the classroom and the crawl space below where it vented from the classroom window.
The resulting smoke explosion or “backdraft” occurred when oxygen was introduced into the area by the firefighters entering the room to extinguish the fire. The larger explosive event observed approximately four seconds later was a sympathetic explosion of the hot gas layer that accumulated between the drop ceiling and the roof. This event was essentially caused by the turbulent and sudden change in the environment as a result of the first explosion.
Traditionally backdrafts occur in a confined space or room, but in this case the fire had been slowly burning in the floor and the crawl space for hours charging both areas with smoke and gases. The fire venting out of the window had not allowed enough oxygen to the back of the room to reduce the fuel load. The Tulsa Fire Department will use this information to determine how to recognize this situation and if its protocols need to be refined to prevent these events in the future.
The Barnard school site was equipped with three monitored smoke detectors but the nature of this fire and its location were not sufficient to activate those alarms. Eight firefighters were injured fighting the fire. Three of those firefighters are still hospitalized.
TPS Superintendent Keith Ballard released the following statement about the investigation:
“We are so appreciative of the hard work of the Tulsa Fire Department and the ATF in bringing this investigation to a conclusion. We remain concerned about the safety and welfare of the eight firefighters who were injured in the blaze, and our hearts go out to them and their families. Without a doubt, we are privileged in Tulsa to be served by such fine men and women as those serving with the Tulsa Fire Department. The district continues to explore its options with the Barnard property and we are still in information-gathering mode, working in conjunction with TSAS and our insurance companies. In the coming weeks, the TPS board will make a decision as to how we will proceed with the property.”
On Friday, the Tulsa Community Foundation announced a grant that will match, dollar-for-dollar, donations up to $93,750 to assist Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences.
The grant will assist with immediate operating expenses resulting from the recent fire at Barnard Elementary School.