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Olympia High School and Middle School cancel classes on Friday following fire

Olympia High School/Middle School fire
Tammy Hansen
The Olympia High School/Middle School campus was evacuated on Thursday due to a fire.

Olympia High School and Middle School will be closed and classes are canceled on Friday as fire restoration crews clean up after fire damaged the high school on Thursday.

Olympia Superintendent Laura O’Donnell said the fire was spotted around 12:45 p.m. and the connected buildings were evacuated within three minutes.

She added the cause of the fire is unknown, but it appears to have started along the solar panels installed on the high school roof. There were no injuries reported.

“We are unsure if it was an electrical issue, or what exactly happened on the solar panels, but it started on the solar panel and it just traveled down the line of panels that are all connected,” said O’Donnell, adding the panels were installed at the school in 2018.

An observer in Danvers nearly 13 miles away spotted smoke billowing from the school in rural Stanford.

O’Donnell said a damage estimate is not yet known, but there was water damage to the high school gym and commons area.

Students were evacuated to the high school football field and after buses arrived, they were taken to Minier Christian Church where they were reunited with their families. O’Donnell said the reunification process took several hours for some families because identification was required for the more 700 students who were waiting to be picked up.

O’Donnell said remote learning is not an option for the students on Friday because many of them had to leave their phones, laptops and other personal items in the school when they evacuated.

Each of Olympia's grade schools will be in session on Friday.

O’Donnell said the district hopes to be able to bring students back in shifts on Friday to collect their belongings.

“We are trying to do that as soon as possible, but we are at the mercy of the fire restoration people and we just need to make sure it’s safe before we let kids back in,” she said.

The school district will post information about when classes will resume on its website and social media.

O’Donnell said the district had planned a fire drill for Friday and some students didn’t realize at first there was an actual fire.

The National Weather Service declared an elevated fire risk for much of central Illinois due to the breezy, dry weather.

The 377 square miles in the district make Olympia the largest school system by land area in Illinois. It includes portions of five counties, including McLean and Tazewell.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.