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5 students heating  hot chocolate burned

Four students were injured -one seriously -when fire ignited while they were heating hot chocolate with gas burners Northside College

Four students were injured -one seriously -when a fire ignited while they were heating hot chocolate with gas burners at Northside College Prep. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 21, 2014 3:33PM

Five students heating hot chocolate in a cooking class being held in a science lab were injured — one seriously — when a gas burner ignited, sending flames to the ceiling at a North Side high school, fire officials said.

“Somebody tried to cook something, and got it too close to the Bunsen burner,” said Emma Johnson-Geis, a 17-year-old senior at Northside College Prep, 5500 N. Kedzie, who was in a sewing class next door.

“There was this noise, then we see students running out screaming, and smoke coming from the room, before everyone was evacuated,” she said.

The incident happened about 10:30 a.m. , police said. The Chicago Fire Department initiated a Level One HazMat response.

“It lasted all of maybe 10 seconds,” Fire Media Affairs Director Larry Langford said outside the school, after the fire was contained. “A gas burner ignited. The fire went up to the ceiling, and was immediately put out by the sprinkler.”

One student was taken to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in serious-to-critical condition with facial burns and burns to the arms and neck. Students identified the student as a sophomore boy.

Two other students were taken to Swedish Covenant Hospital in stable condition, with minor skin burns. Another with singed hair was taken to Illinois Masonic in good condition, Langford said. A fifth student declined treatment.

Chicago Public Schools spokesman Joel Hood said the fire ignited during a “routine cooking instruction” involving a single-burner stove. All students were evacuated for a short time until they could return safely, Hood said.

Students said the incident occurred in a Cooking Colloquium class — one of several extracurricular classes, such as sewing and music that students are allowed to take on Wednesdays. It was being held in the science laboratory.

“Kids on the third floor said the explosion was loud enough that someone in the next room could hear it,” said 14-year-old freshman Ayesha Siddiqui. “The fire alarm went off and everyone thought it was a fire drill until we got outside and saw all the fire trucks and the smoke coming out of the window.”

One staff member who witnessed the fire’s aftermath said it was quite “scary.”

“The boy, his face was all burned. The three others were hurt, and the girls were all screaming. The kids were really scared. It was just very scary,” said maintenance worker Antonio Diaz.

The fire was put out quickly enough that the classroom sustained no damage, Langford said, adding, “The sprinkler did its job.”

School officials held students in the gym after school to inform them of what happened and of the injury to their classmates.

“Everyone’s worried about who was hurt,” said 17-year-old junior Dylan Doppelt.

“The teachers seemed really worried about it,” Doppelt said.

Northside College Prep dad and local school council member Erick Howenstine said his son sent him a text message saying he was OK, and that such an incident is an aberration at the school.

Another father of a senior agreed. “The school has very high standards and this is not something that happens often at Northside,” that father said.

Contributing: Jordan Owen

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