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Columbus North faces aftermath of fire

COLUMBUS, Ind. (WISH)-Columbus North High School is picking up the pieces after a fire damaged the auditorium.

A restoration crew spent Tuesday working at the school.

Investigators said the fire started after a light malfunctioned over the auditorium Monday. The room was empty at the time and no one was hurt.

The flames are gone and the smoke is replaced by the scent of cleaning chemicals, but an overhead light is still missing over the room.

“I’m grateful that we’re safe,” Principal David Clark said.

Clark said one of the overhead lights burst between 6:45 a.m. and 7:45 a.m., after a custodian flipped the light switch.

Investigators said the debris melted the light’s plastic cover. The plastic caught fire and dripped down, destroying 25 seats.

“I feel blessed to work with a team here that got very operational, very quick,” Clark said.

Clark and two other school leaders helped extinguish the flames while firefighters rushed to the school.

Capt. Mike Wilson of the Columbus Fire Department said the fire could have been worse if not for the plastic cover that initially blocked the debris. He said, had the room not been empty, the cover could have helped protect people below.

“There are about 40 million of those systems, the metal halide systems, used throughout the United States,” Wilson said of the auditorium lighting system. “There are very rare occurrences of this actually occurring.”

School leaders said it will take at least two weeks to restore the auditorium.

Prior to the fire, administrators were already planning to remodel parts of the school. Clark said they plan to research whether new lights should be installed.

“I know they’ll be looked at,” Clark said. “I know that’ll be part of the conversation.”

Clark said he believes the auditorium lights were installed in 1984.

He said the school had Christmas plays and other programs scheduled for the auditorium. School leaders will move those events to other spots and they have no plans to cancel any performances.