Fire alarms on May 19 not a drill

Sara Yang

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Small fire in chemistry class causes student to pull the alarm

Shortly after the fire alarms on May 19, a dispatch from the fire department arrived at the school, driving down McClellan Road and up the access road before parking in the basketball courts. According to sophomore Mihir Patil, the crew went to the upstairs D-building and checked for zinc residue in the fumes to prevent further reactions before students and staff were allowed to return to classrooms. Photo by Kevin Tsukii.
Shortly after filing into classrooms, students began filing out when fire alarms sounded on May 19 during the first 15 minutes of sixth period. According to administration, the alarms resulted from an actual fire and were not part of a drill. Officially, the incident remains under investigation.


The small fire resulted from a reaction in the trash can in room D205, a Chemistry Honors classroom, supposedly due to a reaction of zinc chemical residue left over from a “gold” penny lab on May 18. Photo by Sara Yang.Sophomore Mihir Patil, who was settling into his sixth period Chemistry Honors class in room D205 with science teacher Supriya Moore, stated that the fire spontaneously ignited in a trash can towards the front of the room, near one of the two classroom doors. He estimates that the incident began right before 1:30 p.m.

“Everyone started shouting ‘Fire!’” Patil said. “People were first curious… they first started moving up towards the fires, they saw the fire and went ‘Oh, okay, that’s a nice fire,’ then they started moving out [of the room].”

Moore first moved the trash can outside the room. Patil approached the classroom fire alarm while the class evacuated. He checked with Moore before pulling down on the lever but the alarm did not sound off until he and sophomore Minolee Vora realized that it was necessary to pull the lever both down and out.

“I was expecting [Moore] to touch the fire extinguisher,” Patil said. “I didn’t want to prematurely pull the fire alarm…if she could finish it over there.”

Ashes around the trash can outside room D205 were cleaned up shortly after students and staff were allowed back into classrooms. Photo by Sara Yang.A dispatch from the fire department quickly arrived on the scene. On May 18, Chemistry Honors had performed a standard lab by coating copper pennies with zinc powder and sodium hydroxide before heating them, to create “gold” pennies. Patil reported that zinc residue from the lab had accidentally been tossed into the trash can on a cloth rag, which led to the small fire.

Assistant principal secretary Deb Mandac confirmed that approximately 40 students were taking belated AP tests on campus when the alarm sounded. As one of several students in the library working on the AP Chinese test, which had been scheduled to begin at 12:15 p.m., sophomore Ted Yuan had completed about five problems before the interruption.

According to Yuan, upon returning to the library, the students briefly worked on the test before receiving notice that scores for their tests-in-progress would be cancelled, and a make-up would be scheduled for the following week.

Check back at elestoque.org for more updates on the incident investigation and consequences.

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