No major health concerns after fire at TSAS

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Reported by: Ian Silver
Updated: 9/06/2012 9:03 am Published: 9/05/2012 6:58 pm

A fire Wednesday morning at the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences appears to have started in or near a chemistry lab, prompting health concerns for people in the neighborhood, especially after there were two explosions in the area of the lab. 

Investigators still have not determined where or how the fire started, or what kinds of chemicals, if any, were in the lab. 

Several Tulsa Fire Department hazmat crews spent the morning and afternoon on the scene, but eventually left after determining there was no hazardous materials threat.

But the possibility of chemical fumes was troubling for some who live near the school.

David Preston had a front-row seat for the fire, sitting on his porch directly across the street from the front of the school. He was startled by the first explosion.

"It shot a fireball about 25, 30 feet out of that window," Preston said. "Went up, and it was more of a woosh."

Seconds later he heard and felt a much bigger boom.

"A big 50-foot wide fireball went 150 feet in the air, probably," he said.

"That's the one that scared us, because the windows that are right across from our porch blew out and glass flew halfway across that lawn. So, we didn't know what was going to [happen]."

For hours after that huge plumes of smoke wafted through Preston's neighborhood.

"You can smell it inside," he said. "We didn't get the worst of it. The people that got the worst of it are to the west."

But Preston said he had not felt anything unusual to make him think dangerous chemical fumes might have gotten to him.

"I have a little bit of a sore throat, but not too bad," he said.

"It's my understanding that the chemistry lab wasn't even done, so they didn't have a lot in there."

The cause of the fire and explosions is still under investigation, but Tulsa Fire Department Chief of Health and Safety, Glenn Brigan, had an idea of the cause.

"It did look like it was an explosion that occurred maybe from natural gas or propane or something like that," Brigan said.

Fire investigators note Bunsen burners that use natural gas are common in chemistry labs.

If the explosion was caused by natural gas or propane, officials with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said there would not be much, if any, concern over negative health effects.

After all, they said, most people cook with natural gas or propane and never have any problems.

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