SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — The dreams and hard work of Shawnee students ready to perform in the Spring Middle School Choir Concert went up in smoke Wednesday night after an electrical fire canceled the event minutes before it was to start.
Ten minutes before the concert for sixth-, seventh and eighth-graders, there was smoke near the light and sound booth in the Hugh Downs Auditorium inside Shawnee High School. About 400 students, parents and staff were evacuated, said auditorium facilitator Mark Decker.
The school was evacuated, and no one was injured. Firefighters later found wires that overheated in the auditorium stage lighting system.
“As I was walking back to the light and sound booth, one of our janitors asked if I smelled smoke. I said, ‘Yes I did,’ and we went back upstairs, and there appeared to be a problem with our large dimmer board that controls the light,” Decker said.
Decker and the janitor shut down electricity and started the evacuation while calling the fire department.
The incident canceled the event for the night. Whether it will be rescheduled was unclear Wednesday.
Decker said the concert was the culmination of a year’s worth of work for the students, so a cancellation would be a big disappointment.
“It’s a major event for the kids and the district,” he said.
There never were visible flames, and the Shawnee Township Fire Department did not drag hose lines into the building. Firefighters brought in fire extinguishers but did not use them, Shawnee Township Chief Todd Truesdale said.
“It appears we had a short," Truesdale said. "Those wires cooked, and that’s what was emitting the smoke in the building.”
As a precaution, especially because several hundred people were inside, Truesdale called for backup from the Lima, Cridersville and American Township fire departments.
To make matters worse, he said, the exhaust fans in the school moved the smell of smoke through the building.
“Our biggest concern when we first got there was the building was not fully evacuated,” he said.
Assistant Middle School Principal Judy Gephart said her biggest concern was getting everyone out safely. She was outside when the fire alarm started, and she began helping with the evacuation.
“Everybody was very cooperative and exited the building,” she said.