Okanogan County Fire District 6 Chief Don Waller, left, confered with Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable after a smoke scare forced evacuation of Liberty Bell High School last week. Photo by Ann McCreary

Okanogan County Fire District 6 Chief Don Waller, left, confered with Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable after a smoke scare forced evacuation of Liberty Bell High School last week. Photo by Ann McCreary

By Ann McCreary

Liberty Bell junior and senior high school was evacuated of all students and staff last Friday afternoon (Oct. 25) after fire alarms were set off at 12:19 p.m. by smoke in the building.

Students and staff remained outside the building as firefighters from Okanogan County Fire District 6 tried to determine the source of the smoke. Local law enforcement officers and paramedics also responded to the alarm.

Superintendent Tom Venable said Monday (Oct. 28) that firefighters traced the smoke to two old hot water heaters in an upstairs mechanical room that had overheated, causing insulation behind metal sheathing to smolder.

Venable said the district expected to replace the water heaters this week. The equipment provides hot water to the school lunchroom, he said.

At about 2 p.m. students were allowed to re-enter the building accompanied by school officials to collect personal items. A pick-up area for students was set up in front of the district office next to the elementary school.

The evacuated students appeared to be enjoying the warm fall weather as they lounged on lawns and playing fields and played pickup volleyball and basketball.

District officials allowed students with transportation to leave the school campus early on Friday after signing out. A junior high school dance and sports practices scheduled for Friday were cancelled.

Venable said he was pleased with the way students, staff and parents responded during the incident.

“We were not only able to account for all students through the evacuation process, but were able to account for all students that left school early,” he said. “It was a unique opportunity for us to practice our emergency response procedures, and we’ll spend some time debriefing with local law enforcement officers.”