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WKBW 7 News Buffalo

School tablets on charges may have sparked Lockport school fire

By Eileen Buckley,


A Lockport City School will be closed again on Tuesday following a fire that broke out Sunday afternoon.

The City of Lockport fire chief tells 7 News fire broke out at the Emmet Belknap Intermediate School.

“It was definitely a little bit of an eye-opener yesterday. This is the first time that I can recall in my 22 years, you've had a fire of this magnitude inside one of our schools in the district,” remarked Luca Quagliano, fire chief, Lockport Fire Department.

When fire crews arrived, two classrooms, 208 and 210 set off alarms. But he says crews were never met with any flames.

“As they approach that room, the windows of the door and the overhead windows were blackened with soot, so it was immediately evident that something had been burning in there,” Chief Quagliano remarked.

The fire chief tells me investigators discovered at least 18- tablet devices that were possibly stacked together for recharging. They say could have started this fire.

Luca Quagliano, fire chief, Lockport Fire Department.

“Based on burn patterns, they were led back to a specific area within that classroom, and it was immediately evident there were remnants of multiple electronic devices plugged into a powerstrip,” explained Chief Quagliano. “When we did some interviewing with the teacher and the principal, we were able to look at the other classrooms and we found out that each classroom has approximately 18 to 20 tablets assigned to each room.”

Dr. Mathis Calvin, superintendent, Lockport City School District.

“We think that may have contributed and so we are definitely open to talking with the fire chief, and kind of learning from his investigation and then we'll go from there,” Dr. Mathis Calvin, superintendent, Lockport City School District. “Our goal is to make sure no matter what we do, though, we want to make sure that we ensure the health and safety of our students, so we're open to the conversation for sure."

Superintendent Calvin says there was considerable damage in the room where it started.

“So you know, there are you know, items in the room that have been burnt up. Desk and walls and chairs and have some soot of all over them, so the space it looks like it just went through a fire basically and you know, the room next door to it — has a lot of soot all over the place,” described Dr. Calvin.

Outside Emmet Belknap Intermediate School, Lockport.

Crews from Servpro were at the school Monday to begin cleanup, but the superintendent says a couple of the classrooms will probably remain shut down for the remainder of the school year and students will be relocated within the building.

The school is expected to reopen Wednesday.

Servpro working at school building.

The fire chief says he will be having conversations with the school district about how long devices need to be charged to improve safety. But he tells me everyone should be careful with devices that have lithium-ion batteries.

City of Lockport Fire truck.

"These devices in and of themselves are not dangerous. But as with anything the proper use and the instructions do need to be followed. Give the device plenty of room so they can breathe and they're charging. Try not to overcharge them once your device reaches 100% of that should be unplugged and always use compatible charging devices important,” noted Chief Quagliano. "The problem with lithium is they have the propensity to go into what's called thermal runaway. So if the device overheats, the components within that battery can break down. And due to the nature of a lithium-ion, it produces its own oxygen, so there's no way to shut down that thermal reaction once it begins."

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