Federal fire investigators assist in school explosion

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Updated: 9/06/2012 8:59 am Published: 9/05/2012 9:46 pm

A massive fire with back to back explosions at a new charter school in Midtown Tulsa sends eight fire fighters to the hospital.

Six were released and two are in the burn unit.

The explosion happened early Wednesday morning at Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences, formerly Barnard Elementary, at 17th and S. Lewis.

“I wouldn’t believe what I am looking at. From one end to the other,” said Alan Beckert.

His three daughters who are now grown attended Barnard Elementary. The explosion happened in the same area of the chemistry lab.

The school day hadn’t started so no students were inside.

It’s still not safe for fire investigators to get inside the building to study the smoke and burn patterns.

On Wednesday night, firefighters from across the city were rotating in and out to keep an eye on hot spots.

Federal investigators are planning to arrive Thursday to help investigate how it happened.

The historical school stood for 87 years and is now unrecognizable.

"It's pretty upsetting to see it this way,” said Beckert. "I am amazed at the devastation. The whole building is torn to pieces."

The damage is 40,000 square feet and is an estimated $8 million loss.

Firefighters said the explosion happened near the chemistry lab on the northeast end of the building.

"The scale of the investigation makes it somewhat unique and the fact that we have significant fire damage inside the structure and just the large loss,” said Tulsa Fire Investigator Scott Winford.

At no cost to the city of Tulsa, The Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives activated its National Response Team. The team is made up of 15-20 certified fire investigators, chemists, fire protection and electrical engineers from across the country.

"We will have to interview everyone involved in the construction, the teachers in the school and the ones who used the classroom at the east end of the school and what activities took place in the school in the past couple of days. Especially last night,” said Winford.

Magnum Construction tells FOX23 News, workers installed a 9 inch fume hood in the chemistry lab Tuesday night.

The vice president of the company said when workers left for the night they did not notice lit burners or visible flames.

"We don't know if that was caused by a smoke explosion, natural gas leak,” said Winford.

Magnum VP said they received their occupancy permit before TSAS opened two weeks ago. The Fire Marshal said the school was in compliance.

Project School House forced Barnard to close in the 2011/2012 school year. It stayed vacant and was re-opened this year by the charter school.

The national response team has 24 hours from being called. They are expected to arrive on Thursday and will be briefed about the incident. Investigators said they won’t be able to start digging into the debris to check for any patterns until Friday morning.

"To see it like this is unbelievable,” said Beckert.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of KOKI FOX23 - Tulsa

NightShade - 9/6/2012 12:56 PM
0 Votes
I'm sure TPS maintains some insurance on these structures. I hope they do rebuild this is one of the few amazing schools in Tulsa. I also hope they are able to get some prefab buildings in the mean time. And, I my thoughts and prayers are with the Firefighters both injured and not, who were brave enough to try to get a handle on this fire. You guys are as always, the real hero's in this entire thing.

Mayor Maynot - 9/5/2012 10:08 PM
0 Votes
It's been a pretty hot summer. With infrequent tremblers shaking through the past few months factored in with age of building, I'd say big gas leak underground.
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