Fire at WHS Sparks Early Weekend


Daphne Teachey

Students waiting after the evacuation on May 25th. Photo by Daphne Teachey.

Elisabeth Oster and Joe Kottke

   Wayzata High School students were evacuated at 10:40 a.m. due to a fire in the pottery room on May 25th.

   “I was in orchestra during second block and I remember walking to the bathroom and passing the pottery room. On the way there, I noticed how smoky and hazy the hallway was,” said Anna Osipov (11).

   “The fire started and was contained within our kiln ventilation system located inside the kiln room,” said Wayzata High School Principal Scott Gengler. “Due in part to the quick thinking of some staff, the emergency crews, and first responders who arrived quickly to the high school, the fire never really had a chance to spread. I am very appreciative of our students and staff who acted promptly, evacuated quickly, and ended the day safely without incident.”

   Catherine Cieminski (12) was working in the pottery room during second block for independent study. “The vents were not open to let the exhaust go outside,” said Cieminski. “All around, the vents were on fire.”

  “We were loading the kiln, and usually it’s hot in there while the kiln is running, but this time it was so hot we were all profusely sweating,” said Cieminski.

  According to KSTP, eleven fire departments assisted in containing the fire as well as the Plymouth Police Department, the State Fire Marshal, and North Memorial Ambulance. Fire departments that were present included the Hamel Volunteer Fire Department, the Mound Fire Department, and the Excelsior Fire District.

  “A key element that makes the fire service work is the ability of disparate organizations to effectively and seamlessly work together when an incident—such as yesterday’s—requires more resources than one organization can provide. It is the strength and backbone of our mutual aid for each other,” said Hamel Volunteer Fire Department Spokesperson Mario Fabrizio.

According to a Plymouth Fire Department press release, the fire was above the kiln and extended to the roof of the tower. More reinforcements were also called due to high temperatures in the area.

A Trojan Tribune investigation found that school fires associated with kilns are relatively common. According to KSTP, Eagle Ridge Academy in Minnetonka was forced to close after a fire in the kiln room on October 27, 2017.

A fire also occurred in 2014 at John Marshall High School, according to KTTC. The storage building containing multiple pottery kilns caught on fire at the Rochester school.

According to Director of Facilities and Transportation Jon Deutsch, the kiln room will not be operational for the rest of the year. A temporary patch for the roofing was put in place on Friday and a permanent repair will be scheduled.

In regards to the art room and main hallway, Deutsch said, “There is a slight smoke odor that remains.  Currently, there are ‘smoke-eaters’ scrubbing the air. It is hard to tell, but it would be my opinion that the smell is coming from the kiln room and the debris that was left.”

There was also water damage to ceiling tiles in the cafeteria area, according to Deutsch. Sheetrock and pipe insulation was left to dry; the situation will be assessed later in the week to see if these components need to be replaced.  

Students were dismissed from school at 12 p.m. and classes were canceled for the rest of the day, according to an email sent out by Gengler to Wayzata High School parents.

“We all immediately left school because we had seen the fire and we knew the rest of the day was going to get canceled,” said Cieminski.

“When the fire alarm went off everyone was so surprised and none of us really knew what to do,” said Osipov. “When you have a drill, the teacher is already prepared for it, but it caught everyone so off guard.”

Cellphone photo of the fire in the kiln room. Photo by Catherine Cieminski.