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Filter blamed for Langley Middle School fire scare

Acting Langley Police Chief David Marks directs traffic on Camano Avenue while South Whidbey Fire/EMS firefighters clean up after a fire call at Langley Middle School on Monday. The incident, the result of a filter problem in a large overhead heater, forced the evacuation of the school campus and temporarily disrupted a basketball game. No one was injured and no damage was reported.  - Justin Burnett / The Record
Acting Langley Police Chief David Marks directs traffic on Camano Avenue while South Whidbey Fire/EMS firefighters clean up after a fire call at Langley Middle School on Monday. The incident, the result of a filter problem in a large overhead heater, forced the evacuation of the school campus and temporarily disrupted a basketball game. No one was injured and no damage was reported.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

Reports of a fire at Langley Middle School resulted in a facility-wide evacuation Monday.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS crews responded to the 3 p.m. incident and found “heat and smoke” in an upstairs room of the historic two-story brick building, but no flames, according to district officials.

According to South Whidbey Fire/EMS Deputy Chief Jon Beck, the smoke came from an overhead heating unit that hadn’t been used in some time. It malfunctioned shortly after the building occupants turned it on for a tour of the room, he said.

“It pumped out enough smoke to trip two detectors,” Beck added.

The alarms triggered the evacuation of the old school, which is currently used by Whidbey Island Dance Theatre, along with every other school building, said Brian Miller, director of facilities for South Whidbey School District.

“When an alarm goes off, the whole campus is evacuated,” he said.

Classes were already out for the day, but a basketball game was going on in the adjacent gym. The game was called to a halt and everyone was removed to a safe distance while firefighters investigated the scene. Game play resumed at about 3:30 p.m., a school official said.

According to Miller, investigation revealed that a filter had somehow gotten too close to a heater coil, and that was what caused the smoke. He speculated high winds may have been at fault, causing pressure and dislodging the filter, but that it’s impossible to be certain.

“We’ll probably never know for sure,” Miller said.

Beck said heater problems have the potential to escalate into full-blown fires, so the fire department didn’t take any chances when addressing the emergency Monday afternoon.

Three fire engines responded to the call, along with 14 firefighters, and firehose was rolled out and readied for action. Water wasn’t needed, however, just shutting off the power. Electricity to the building was cut and the heater immediately ceased smoking.

“We were able to get it to shut it off quick enough that it didn’t do any [smoke] damage,” Beck said.

“The fire alarms did their job,” he said.

The incident resulted in the closure of both lanes of traffic on Camano Avenue for about one hour. Motorists were diverted to Edgecliff Drive, Decker Avenue and Sandy Point Road.

 

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