Twenty Antioch Upper Grade School students and two adults were sent to area hospitals with nonlife-threatening respiratory issues after the building was evacuated Thursday due to fumes from a small fire, authorities said.
The sixth through eighth grade students, aged 11 to 13, were sent to five hospitals with respiratory problems arising from two separate but related incidents, according to Antioch Deputy Fire Chief Chris Leinhardt.
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At least 11 students and one adult had been examined and released by 2 p.m., according to hospital officials.
Officials are still investigating the cause of the students' conditions.
Firefighters detected no harmful particles in the air at the school building Thursday afternoon, officials said.
Leinhardt said firefighters were first called to the school at 800 Highview Drive, Antioch, at 8:40 a.m. after a kiln fire started in an art classroom where students were working on a pottery project. A teacher tried to contain the fire by throwing a wool blanket on it before pulling the fire alarm.
The building was evacuated and firefighters put out the fire. No one was injured. Students and staff re-entered after fire officials ventilated the building and measured carbon monoxide levels at zero.
However, emergency crews returned to the school around 9:45 a.m. when several students in various parts of the building complained of being sickened by fumes from the earlier fire. Firefighters evacuated the building again due to the "airborne irritants," said Mark Ostap, Antioch Elementary District 34 assistant superintendent for administrative services.
"They weren't toxic fumes, but firefighters had us clear the building as a precautionary measure," Ostap said.
Eleven ambulances from Antioch and surrounding villages, including Wauconda, Zion and Grayslake, arrived and set up a triage treatment and transport center outside the school. After evaluating 30 students and staff, fire officials said 22 people were sent to area hospitals in noncritical conditions.
Five children and one adult were sent to the Vista Health Center in Lindenhurst, and four children were sent to Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan. All 10 were examined and released before 1 p.m., according to a hospital spokesman. Two children sent to Centegra Hospital-McHenry were also examined and released in the afternoon.
As of noon, six students and one adult had been admitted to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, according to a spokeswoman at the hospital. Three students were sent to St. Catherine's Medical Center in Kenosha, according to Antioch Fire Chief John Nixon.
School officials dismissed students who had been staged outside the building during the evacuation. Leinhardt credited the school in handling the situation.
"The kids evacuated the school in a very orderly fashion and followed all protocols well," he said.
Connor Simonsen, a sixth-grader at the school, described the scene in the building.
"It smelled really bad and smoky," said Simonsen, 12. He said he wasn't sick, and he was glad for the unexpected half-day of school.
Ostap said the school was bringing in a professional cleaning crew to treat the burn smell in the building. Classes were expected to resume Friday.