Science experiment creates flash fire, injuring 17 students and a teacher

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A high school science experiment caused a flash fire, injuring 17 students and a teacher at Merrol Hyde Magnet School in Hendersonville, and forcing an evacuation of the entire school.  

17 students were triaged at the scene, 9 children and one teacher were transported to hospitals with non-critical injuries, according to Fire Chief Scotty Bush. 

Some of the children went to TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center, the rest were treated at Vanderbilt University Children’s Hospital and the teacher was also treated at Vanderbilt Medical Center. All are expected to go home tonight. 

Chief Bush and Dr. Del Phillips, Sumner County Director of Schools, held a late afternoon briefing.  

They said the incident was an “accident” that caused an unintentional chemical reaction and a temporary flash fire.  

Bush said the students were gathered around as the teacher did a demonstration that involved mixing chemicals.  

There was a sudden flash fire lasting three to five seconds. Because there was no smoke it did not set off any fire alarms.  

Bush confirmed the students have second degree burns, consistent with a flash fire caused by a chemical reaction.  

The students treated at TriStar Hendersonville went through a decontamination procedure as soon as they arrived, according to Dr. Berchaun Nicholls, an Emergency Room physician. 

“When they came in we set up decontamination tents and had them wash off. And brought them into a room where they could be treated for their burns and given breathing treatments if they had any kind of shortness of breath,” said Dr. Nicholls. 

Nicholls said they had superficial burns on their arms from the chemical reaction caused by mixing boric acid and ethyl alcohol, which produces a small flame.  

“None of the children were actually doused with the chemicals,” said Nichols. “It didn’t stay on the body long. Any time you have any kind of chemical injury you do want to safely get your clothes off and try to wash off and irrigate as quickly as possible.” 

A similar experiment was done at a science museum in Reno, Nevada in 2014, injuring 13 students.  

According to reports, the fire was also caused by mixing boric acid and alcohol.  

A lecturer from Appalachian State University said within the past 20 years, there’ve been at least 32 similar science experiments that have caused injury to students and teachers at school across the country. 

All children were treated and released to their parents. The teacher was also treated and released. The teacher’s name has not been released.   

Inside the school, the fire department set up fans to clear the air. Chief Bush praised school officials for quick action, and School Director Phillips praised the Fire Department’s fast response.  

They said the school will reopen Thursday morning on a normal schedule.  

Merrol Hyde Magnet School serves K-12 students with a focus on academic achievement. The school is located on Township Drive in Hendersonville.  

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