INDIO, Calif.- - Yesterday, a fire at the abandoned Ralph's supermarket on the 81000 block of Highway 111 sent massive black plumes of smoke billowing into the sky and fortunately, caused no injuries. The blaze did, however, cause quite a bit of scrambling for people in the area; roads were closed, bus lines were disrupted, and area buildings, including Indio High School, were evacuated en masse.
Although no students suffered from fire-caused injuries, students and parents expressed concern with the way the school handled the situation. The students were evacuated to the school's football field at 12:24 p.m. to attempt to ensure their safety from the fire, but complaints relating to the possible risk of heat-related ailments and smoke inhalation were expressed to the district, KESQ & CBS Local 2, and on social media.
Mary Perry, the public information officer for Desert Sands Unified School District, issued a statement to KESQ & CBS Local 2 today to address the above-mentioned concerns. Read the statement below:
(Statement has been edited for clarity.)
"The Decision was made to evacuate to the football field where there are water fountains, bathrooms, and a trainer's room. The effects of the smoke were minimal -this is the location that the school evacuates to during a fire drill.
The evacuation took place at 12:24 pm
A message was sent home to parents shortly after the evacuation to notify them of the situation and that students were being temporarily moved to the football field.
Delivery of additional water was being planned pending arrangements with law enforcement to get through the closed streets but, again, the field has water fountains and bathrooms.
At 1:30 pm (64 minutes) later, students were released to go home. Normal daily release time for the school is 2:35 pm. Wednesday is a "late start" day so the kids start school at 8:30 and have lunch at 12:33-1:13 (as opposed to other days when lunch is 12:18-12:58 pm).
The cafeteria was deemed by the fire department to be unusable due to the smoke. No lunch service was also taken into consideration when deciding to release the students. Leaving the school at 1:30 meant that their lunch could be eaten 15 minutes after the end of their normal Wednesday lunch period.
Parents were notified of the 1:30 release time within minutes of the decision again via SchoolMessenger which sends notices home in English and in Spanish via phone, text, and/or email depending on the request and prior registration of parents. Federal law requires that ALL students have a way to have parents/guardians notified in case of an emergency. While parents can opt to have phone or text/emails, they cannot opt out of receiving a notification.
Working with law enforcement, safe walking paths from the school were discussed and Indio Police was on site to assure that students were kept away from the site of the fire while walking home. Indio High School is referred to as a "walking school" because the majority of their students walk to school each day. Students who are picked up by parents or who are transported by district buses were accommodated at the nearby Indio Recreation Center. Again, law enforcement worked with district and school personnel to assure that parents had a safe route to the location.
A single student exhibited medical stress that was not heat related. She was accompanied (walked) to the trainer's office at the football field and her mother was called. The parent opted to not have the student transported to the hospital.
As with all decisions made by the district or an individual school, emergency response is handled by a trained team making the best decisions for our students and for our staff members. An emergency situation means that the unexpected has occurred and team members work diligently to take care of students in the best way possible."
Noticias en español: Telemundo 15