Southern Utah high school evacuated due to smoke from air conditioning unit

Students standing outside of Snow Canyon High School after being evacuated due to smoke in the building, April 25, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —¬†Students at Snow Canyon High School were evacuated Thursday morning due to a “smoke scare.” The cause of the smoke was something that fire officials say can be common this time of year.

Personnel from the St. George Fire Department on scene at Snow Canyon High School after receiving a report of smoke in the building, April 25, 2019 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Battalion Chief Darren Imlay, of the St. George Fire Department, said fire crews were initially dispatched for a possible structure fire at the school; however, there was only a little bit of smoke throughout a part of the school.

“We believe it was their HVAC system, like a burnt belt,” Imlay said, referring to the school’s Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning system.

Imlay said the smoke stopped coming out of the unit and then dissipated. All students were evacuated from the school, and there were no injuries.

Fire Chief Robert Stoker, who was also present on scene, said calls like these are most common in the fall and spring, when people begin to turn on heat or air conditioning more frequently.

Depending on the unit, Stoker said bearings can go out, as well as belts and motors. Dust and lint can also collect on heating systems when they haven’t been used for awhile, which can result in that being burned off once that system is turned on again.

“Because that’s a closed system, it will push that smoke throughout wherever that unit is delivering the air,” he said.

A common question the fire department receives in these situations, Stoker said, is why smoke detectors don’t go off, even though people can smell and see smoke that’s present. Stoker said a certain amount of smoke has to be detected in order for smoke detection systems to go off.

In the case of Snow Canyon High School, its smoke alarm system didn’t go off immediately.

Even if you think you shouldn’t call 911 or the fire department in these situations, Stoker said it’s important that you do, adding that if you smell smoke or see smoke coming from your heater or air conditioning system, it’s important to turn that system off and evacuate.

Maintenance personnel are currently looking for the mechanical error, Stoker said, but agreed that it’s most likely a belt or motor that has malfunctioned.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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