Chemistry demonstration gone wrong caused Dinwiddie school fire

Officials say the fire started during a flammable liquid demonstration involving methanol
A Dinwiddie High School student is still in the hospital a week after a fire inside a chemistry classroom.
Published: Oct. 19, 2022 at 2:20 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 19, 2022 at 3:42 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

DINWIDDIE, Va. (WWBT) - One of the students injured in a fire at a Dinwiddie High School is still in the hospital, officials said on Wednesday.

Two of those injured and taken to the hospital have been released.

A week after that fiery chemistry explosion, Dinwiddie County Public School Leader and Dinwiddie Fire & EMS held a press conference to discuss the initial finding of their investigation into what went wrong with the chemistry experiment.

“19 families sent their young people to school not knowing that the young people they sent to school would be very different than the young people who came home, Said Superintendent Dr. Kari Weston.

According to Dinwiddie Fire & EMS Chief Dennis Hale, the experiment conducted was known as the flammable liquid demonstration involving methanol.

During the demonstration, the instructor will pour methanol from a jug into an open-face beaker and water. From there, the mixture is ignited, in this case, using a smoldering wooden splint.

“A very pale blue flame that would have pretty much been invisible in the classroom lighting,” Chief Hale said.

Hale says the experiment was performed the first time successfully by the instructor, but on the second attempt, vapor from the first demonstration remained in the air and caused a “flame jetting” traveling diagonally across the room about 10 feet until it reached a whiteboard.

“All four students who were injured were directly in the path of that fire that would have traveled to the mouth of the jug in a straight line,” Hal said.

Dinwiddie Fire and EMS say the entire incident would have occurred in a matter of seconds. The firey chain reaction occurred around 9:20 a.m., with crews responding to the school just before 9:30 a.m after their first call. Hale says when crews arrived, the fire was already put out.

Dinwiddie Fire & EMS says that all physical evidence from the chemistry demonstration gone wrong has been collected and processed at this time.

The school division is also investigating whether any other safety protocols were during the experiment.

“In this specific incident, the teacher and students reported that there was no protective equipment used during this demonstration,” Weston said.

Weston says there were 19 students in the classroom when that firey chain reaction happened. While the extent of the injuries is still unknown per the families’ request, two of them have been released from the hospital, while another student remains hospitalized.

“They have a very, very long road ahead,” Weston said.

Weston says the long-time chemistry instructor has been placed on administrative leave until further notice. It has not been disclosed whether he is on paid or unpaid administrative leave.

The classroom is now ready for use, but the school division says the priority is being placed on the students vowing to make sure steps are taken to prevent future accidents.

“We do not feel that the students are ready to learn in the classroom, so we have actually moved them to another space in the school,” Weston said. “This is going to be a long recovery process just for the school, for young people to see and experience and for teachers who have worked with this teacher for a very long time as well. This is just a very traumatic experience all around.”

Officials say they still need to interview instructors to determine why that experiment was chosen and what exactly went wrong. Officials say that the use of methanol was acceptable to be used in a classroom setting.

While the instructor is on leave, all future experiences will be conducted virtually by a long-term sub and former chemistry teacher until further notice. Weston says that all teachers and staff within Dinwiddie County Public Schools are trained in safety protocols and that work has already begun to prevent similar accidents..

“I would say that our classrooms are safe. Our teachers have trained our teachers to understand safety protocols,” Weston said. “Our teachers come to school every day and do amazing things for our young people, and so we have work to do, and we’re going to uncover what that work is, and you have my word that we’re gonna put things in place to make sure something like this never happens again.”


Full press conference of officials giving an update on a chemistry classroom fire at Dinwiddie High School.