Stagecraft Students Forced to Evacuate After Small Fire Breaks Out in PAC

By Stella Heo and Brendan Connelly, Online Editor-in-Chief and Online News Section Editor

// With air quality levels above 160 ppm, temperatures reaching 100 degrees, and memories of previous fires in the back of peoples’ minds, this year’s fire season has many students wondering what’s to come. While many Acalanes High School community members watch as fires spark across California, one broke out far closer to school than most students expected.  

   A small fire broke out in the Acalanes Performing Arts Center (PAC) yesterday during sixth period after a curtain touched an uncovered blue light on stage.

   Stagecraft students were in the PAC preparing to install new lighting equipment when Student Technical Director and senior Rylyn Groves spotted the fire.

   “Me and our new technical assistant, Joe Lubman, were the ones who found it, got everybody out of the PAC, [and] called for [Stagecraft and Drama teacher Ed Meehan]. [I had to] make sure I got everybody out,” Groves said.

   The exposed light was hidden behind a curtain, so Meehan and the students were unaware of it.

   “We had a light fixture that we didn’t know existed… It could have been uncapped for a long time. We just haven’t seen it. It’s been behind a curtain. We were moving some boxes… When we put the set pieces, we pushed the curtain up against the light fixture, and it happened to be on, so [the curtain] touched the fixture and [started the fire],” Meehan said.

   The fire alarms never went off because the curtains in the PAC are fire-retardant and contained the fire enough so that it didn’t become hazardous.

   “The curtain is flame-retardant, so it didn’t start a fire so much as it just smoldered. It didn’t really put off very much smoke at all. In fact, it was really contained. That’s why the fire alarm didn’t go off. There was almost no smoke because the curtain is treated,” Meehan said. 

   Students used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire before Campus Supervisor Mike Pease sprayed it more and cut the curtain.

   “[The students] all did what they were supposed to do. We train in Stagecraft for these things, and so they knew where the fire extinguisher was. We just had a fire extinguisher test, so they knew where the extinguishers were, they were able to find the extinguishers, they got me, which is the first thing they’re supposed to do, we worked at it, and then we sent for help,” Meehan said.

   When the fire department came, the fire was already out and students had moved to the Front Quad to escape the unhealthy air inside.

   “We were told to evacuate, so I just went into the main room and then I went out. You just follow directions and everyone stayed calm, and it wasn’t a huge deal. We were prepared for it, and everyone followed directions, so I think that we were adequately prepared,” senior Ava Spiegler said.

   Some community members pointed out that it was a good thing that this incident occurred during school hours so that the fire could be quickly extinguished.

   “Luckily there were people in the theater at the time, so we got it taken care of. It could have been a disaster, could have been a total disaster, and that building is what, 20, 25 years old. So it’s a relatively new building. My guess, if there’s no one around, that building burns down to the ground,” Campus Supervisor Andy McDonald said. 

   The small fire won’t affect the school play, John Cariani’s “Almost Maine”, which will run from Oct. 25 to 30. 

   “Luckily it was in the big theater. Our first show is in the little theater, but we will have to purchase a new curtain. It was cut down and taken outside, and that’s going to be pretty expensive. And now the theater is going to smell like smoke probably for the next couple of months, which is going to suck,” Groves said.

   While the event was shocking, it gave students and staff an opportunity to reflect and learn.

    “Honestly, this was kind of on all of us. We needed to check for that stuff and we didn’t. Those lights are usually on all the time, and they probably shouldn’t be. We just need to be better about double-checking that stuff,” Groves said.

Photos by Arlyne Noguera, Online Graphics Manager

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