A fire in Judson Erne Auditorium at Columbus North High School, which disrupted the beginning of school, is already having repercussions on major holiday events.
Students were evacuated at 7:44 a.m. Monday after the fire started. Columbus firefighters said about 25 auditorium seats were damaged by the fire, caused by an overhead light that blew and ignited adjacent plastic.
Investigators determined the fire, which filled the auditorium and nearby hallways with smoke, to be accidental. No injuries were reported.
Some school activities are moving to different locations as a result of the fire, including North’s Winter Choir Concert, originally scheduled at the auditorium for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Instead, the concert will be in the North cafeteria, and concertgoers will need to enter at the high school’s main entrance on the north side of the building, located at 1400 25th St.
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Other events also are being impacted.
Sunday’s 3 and 7 p.m. Columbus Indiana Philharmonic concerts by the Wright Brothers, scheduled to be at North, have been moved to Columbus East High School, 230 S. Marr Road.
Seating differences at the two high school venues will require the shows at East to be general admission, said Margaret Powers, the Philharmonic’s executive director.
Powers advised that ticket holders for the Wright Brothers shows to arrive early. Doors will open at 2:20 p.m. for the 3 p.m. show and 6:15 p.m. for the 7 p.m. show.
“We will do everything we can to make sure people get the seats they want,” Powers said.
Organizers for “The Nutcracker,” which will be presented Dec. 17 and 18 by Dancers Studio, said they are hoping the event can be at North, but are working on alternative venues.
When the fire alarm went off, school administrators evacuated the school and learned from the school’s alarm system that the fire was located in the auditorium, said Capt. Mike Wilson, Columbus Fire Department spokesman.
About 2,000 students were in the school when the alarm went off, a minute before North officially began its school day at 7:45 a.m., principal David Clark said.
The evacuation went smoothly, Clark said, as most of the students thought it was a drill.
Clark went with assistant principal John Green and Columbus Police Department resource officer Eric Stevens, assigned to the high school, to grab fire extinguishers before they entered the auditorium.
Clark said the three walked into a lot of smoke, using three fire extinguishers to put out the fire, located in a section of seats that are on the right side of the auditorium if looking out from the stage, about three-fourths of the way into the audience.
Clark said he had never put out a fire before as part of his work duties.
The three were walking out of the auditorium as Columbus firefighters arrived at the school within four minutes of the alarm.
After confirming the fire was completely out, firefighters spent much of the morning setting up ventilation fans to remove smoke from the auditorium, which seats 1,100 people, and nearby hallways.
Students were allowed back in the school while the ventilation fans were being used, Wilson said.
Once most of the smoke was removed from the auditorium area of the school, firefighters checked the breathing quality of the air near the auditorium and the space was reopened for student use. Firefighters were at the school until 10:22 a.m., Wilson said.
The fire started after the overhead light bulb blew, causing superheated glass to contact a plastic light cover. The plastic cover then began to melt, causing the molten plastic to fall into the seating below, Wilson said. As the molten plastic accumulated on the seats, the seat fabric caught on fire and subsequently spread to nearby seats, Wilson said.
Firefighters credited the school administrators and student resource officer because of their quick thinking to use fire extinguishers, which contained the fire to only a small portion of the auditorium seating area.
A damage estimate was not immediately available, Wilson said.
It will take at least a few weeks for repairs to be made to the auditorium, said Clark, who indicated the smoke damage to the auditorium and its stage curtains to be extensive.
The fire extinguisher chemicals, which went into the seats, need to be dealt with, along with replacing the seats and electrical work, the principal said.
Timing is unfortunate, Clark said, considering that the auditorium had been scheduled for school purposes or community organizations almost every night until the Christmas break begins Dec. 22. When it’s not being used for performances, the auditorium is used for rehearsals for groups preparing for their shows.
“We’re just going to have to adjust a lot of it,” he said.