5 W.T. Woodson HS students, teacher injured in chemistry lab fire

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Five students and a teacher were injured after a fire in a classroom at W.T. Woodson High School, according to Fairfax County fire officials.

A male student was flown to MedStar Washington Hospital Center's Burn Center with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries. One female student was flown to Children's National Medical Center and underwent surgery Friday afternoon.

By Friday evening, both of those victims were in fair condition at MedStar.

The other three students were taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital by ambulance with minor injuries. They have been released from the hospital.

A chemistry teacher was also injured, but was treated at the scene and remained at the school.

The rest of the students were evacuated from the school and were taken to the football field. They were later dismissed for the day a few hours later.

According to a tweet from Fairfax County Public Schools, the fire happened in a chemistry lab around 9:40 a.m. and the building was evacuated. Fire officials say the fire was quickly extinguished with the help of a sprinkler system.

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Chief Richard Bowers said Friday afternoon that the students were watching the teacher using chemicals for a demonstration showing the changing colors of flames which led to the fire before something went wrong.

"It was a teacher-led instruction and demonstration and it was chemical in nature," Bowers said.

The seriously injured students suffered burns either from direct contact with fire or from heat, Bowers said. He said they were taken to burn units because of the extent of their injuries and because burns can be susceptible to infection.

Daniel Dorlester was there in the classroom when the fire began.

"Our teacher was giving a demonstration on how different elements -- like copper, lithium -- could change the color of fire," he said. "She had lit a small fire on the lab table. She was adding the chemicals. It was fine. As the fire was dying down, she just decided to add more alcohol and everything exploded. So I just grabbed my phone, my bag and ran out."

When Dorlester got to the hallway, he said he saw one of his classmates on fire.

Christina Butchko was also there in the back of the classroom and she said at least 28 students were there to see the fire spread.

"I just saw the girl that was on fire from the waist up just running out of the classroom and all the other kids covered in fire all over their bodies -- it was scary," she said.

Butchko said the students were not wearing any protective gear.

The school's sprinkler system activated in response to the blaze and kept the fire contained, Bowers said. It was still burning when firefighters arrived. About half the classroom was damaged by fire, smoke and water, he said, and damage was estimated at $7,500.

By the time firefighters arrived, most if not all the people in the classroom had evacuated into the hallway, he said. The seriously injured students did not lose consciousness or require resuscitation.

School officials said the families of the victims have been notified, but they are not identifying the students who were injured. An official said they were likely sophomores or juniors.

The investigation is ongoing.

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Karen K. Garza issued a statement saying:

I was deeply saddened that five students and one teacher suffered injuries in a fire at Woodson High School today. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the victims and their families and all of us in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) sincerely wish for a speedy recovery for each of the six people who were injured.

FCPS is truly like a family and as such, we are all deeply concerned about what happened today. I know this incident has affected the Woodson community and, as a district, we will provide as much support and assistance for students, staff members, and families as is needed.

The Woodson student body evacuated safely, with guidance from staff members, and for that we are truly grateful. We are very proud of the quick and calm actions of the Woodson leadership and staff.

Also, I want to extend a sincere thank you to the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department for their rapid response and the outstanding treatment they provided to those who were injured, and to the Fairfax County Police Department for their presence at the scene. We are very fortunate to live in an area with outstanding professional safety experts, and appreciate all of their efforts today.

Please keep those injured today in your thoughts and prayers.

We will continue to communicate updates as available.

Information from the Associated Press used in this report.

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