Chemistry lab fire at Strive Prep school sends 4 students to hospital with burn injuries

Teacher was lighting methanol, student says

DENVER - A chemistry teacher is on paid leave after four students were injured when an experiment went wrong at the Strive Prep School on the Lalo Delgado campus.

"We are reviewing all of the safety policies and protocols as they relate to the science lab," said school spokeswoman Lindsay Neil. "We've suspended all science lab activity in our network of schools."

The teacher was identified as first-year teacher Daniel Powell.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board tells 7NEWS: "The CSB will be sending two investigators over to the scene of the accident -- they should arrive on scene very shortly."

Denver Fire spokesman Mark Watson said the students suffered burn injuries, and although he could not describe their conditions, he said any burn injury to the face or mouth area should be considered serious.

Denver Health said three students were treated and released and the fourth had been transported to University Hospital because of the severity of his burns.

Strive Prep School is a Denver Public Schools charter school located at 3201 West Arizona Avenue.  The Denver Fire Department received the call about the fire at 7:54 a.m.

A 10th grade student, David Mathis, was in the classroom and told 7NEWS that the chemistry teacher was lighting methanol when it exploded. He said the fire extended up to the ceiling and out towards the back wall of the classroom, and all of the students who were hurt were sitting in the back of the room.

"I only saw one of the students, but his skin was peeling off, and it looked like at least second-degree burns all over," said Mathis. "We were all just chaotic. We were trying to figure out what just happened. We just saw fire everywhere in the room, too, and we were just trying to put it out and help the students."

7NEWS talked to Mathis as he was leaving school with his mother.

"He’s really shaken up by the whole situation, that’s why I opted to come and pick him up and take him home," said his mother, Melissa Mathis.

A school spokeswoman said of the 800 students at the campus, about 100 had been picked up by family and taken home for the day.

Watson confirmed that methanol was the chemical being used in the experiment. He said while the fire damaged some of the materials inside the classroom, the room is structurally sound. 

School officials could not say what kind of experiment was being done.

The fire did not spread to the rest of the building. The fire department stayed on the scene for most of the morning, ventilating the classroom and clearing it of smoke. They also cleaned up the damage in that one chemistry lab, which was shut down for the rest of the day.

The classrooms were evacuated for an hour following the fire but school was back in session by midday.


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