Not a Drill

Some girls just thought it was a fire drill when on Nov. 17 the fire alarm went off in Auburn Adventist Academy's Nelson Hall, home to 81 girls. They left the dorm with little more than the clothes on their backs, thinking that in just a few moments they would be back in their rooms and ready to go on with their evening of studies. It soon became apparent that the alarms were sounding because there really was a fire. The girls were taken to the school cafeteria and accounted for by the three deans and academy staff. They congregated in the school cafeteria along with the other students to watch the fire and to comfort and reassure each other as they watched the dorm go up in flames.

The fire department arrived on the scene and assessed the situation. It soon became apparent that the firefighters would need to stay out of the building and fight the fire in a defensive stance. The fire quickly turned into a three-alarm fire with more than 45 firefighters on the scene from both the Auburn fire department and other surrounding communities. The flames lit up the night sky and could be seen from quite a distance leaping from the roof of the dormitory. The ladder trucks poured water on the roof while other crews focused on attacking the fire from the ground. They were successful in containing the fire so that it did not spread to the chapel situated behind Nelson Hall.

The Adventist community soon came out in force, volunteering to house the displaced girls in homes throughout the Auburn area. Most were able to be housed in the homes of these volunteers, while a few were housed in a local motel. The following day donations started to come in to help rebuild the lives of the students. The Washington Conference community services department was on hand to help with the donated goods. Donations came in the form of jackets for each of the girls, cosmetics, sheets and towels along with clothing to help tide them over until they were able to travel home and begin rebuilding their lives.

A fund was also set up at a branch of Columbia Bank called the Auburn Adventist Academy Girls Dorm Relief Fund. One of the first checks that came in was for $15,000 from the Muckleshoot Indian tribe, whose land neighbors the academy. A possible future student of Auburn sent her 22 cents from her piggy bank to be placed in the fund to help the girls and the academy rebuild. Other donations both large and small have been coming in to aid the displaced girls and deans.

The fire continued to smolder and have flare ups for several days. Engineers along with heavy equipment were brought in to help remove part of the structure so that the firemen could fully extinguish the flames. The cause of the conflagration is still being determined, but investigators suggest it may have started in a basement utility area. The loss is estimated to be in excess of $3.5 million.

The students were allowed to leave for an early Thanksgiving break and will return to school on Dec. 1. They will be housed temporarily in one half of Witzel Hall, which is being retrofitted to accommodate both the boys and girls of Auburn Adventist Academy.

December 01, 2003 / Washington Conference