Malfunctioning heater sparks fire at Burnet school; no injuries

Fire at RJ Richey Elementary in Burnet

Two fire trucks parked outside of R.J. Richey Elementary School, 500 E. Graves St. in Burnet, were part of the quick response to a blaze in the school’s gymnasium on Tuesday morning. The fire was reported, responded to, and contained in less than 10 minutes, according to Burnet Fire Marshal John Paul Erskine. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Classes were canceled at R.J. Richey Elementary School in Burnet on Tuesday, Nov. 29, due to an early morning fire in the school’s gymnasium. Believed to be caused by a malfunctioning heater unit in gym’s office, the blaze was quickly contained, Burnet Fire Marshal John Paul Erskine told 

Classes will resume on Wednesday, Nov. 30. No injuries were reported. 

The fire was reported at 7:16 a.m., and firefighters were on scene by 7:18 a.m. It was under control within seven minutes, he said. 

The decision to cancel classes for the day was made before the cause of the fire was known. Officials were also uncertain how restoring power, which was shut off to fight the fire, would affect the building. Power was restored and the building deemed safe to occupy by 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to a media release from the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District.

Students who had already arrived on campus, 500 E. Graves St., were evacuated and transported to the Burnet High School auditorium, where they were served breakfast. The smoke from the fire triggered an alarm at nearby Burnet Middle School.

Most of the damage to the building was caused by smoke billowing from the burning office, which could take weeks to clean up, Erskine said. Fire crews were on the scene until 10 a.m. with industrial-strength fans to dissipate the smoke.

“In this particular instance, had the automatic door closers on the office functioned properly, the smoke damage would have been limited to the office,” Erskine said. “Everything else went how it should have gone.”

He detailed how the fire spread from a malfunctioning heating unit to a couch below the unit and then on to the rest of the office. The elementary gym teacher quickly contacted the fire department after noticing the fire.


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