Quick-thinking, fast-acting staff members at Red Mountain High School averted a large-scale fire when they put out a burning curtain in the school's auditorium Thursday.
The fire filled the auditorium with smoke, but no one was injured in the 7:30 p.m. blaze and the damage was kept to a minimum, said deputy chief Mike Dunn, Mesa fire spokesman.
"It could have been a disaster for us," said assistant principal Patrick Walsh, who helped put out the blaze.
The fire was caused by a stage light that came into contact with the curtain.
Walsh, who oversees sophomores and school activities, said stage manager Pedro Acosta-Zepeda realized the curtain was on fire. He was putting away equipment used in an earlier outdoor concert on the campus at 7301 E. Brown Road.
Acosta tried swatting out the flame, which was about 12 feet high on the approximately 25-foot-tall curtain, and then custodian Carlos Villalobos came in with a fire extinguisher.
Two other custodians, Jeremy Boyd and Matt Fisher, also showed up to help.
Walsh said no one panicked, but they were certainly excited as they fought the blaze.
At its worst, the smoke cut down visibility to about a foot, Walsh said.
They set up an A-frame ladder that Walsh climbed with a box cutter in his hand to cut down the curtain.
"That's pretty good thinking," Dunn said.
The curtain that caught fire was a smaller one that hangs toward the side of the stage and was not part of the large one that goes across the stage, Dunn said.
Walsh said the fabric became brittle enough that they just yanked it down.
It was still burning as they dragged it off stage and outside, where they sprayed it with a fire extinguisher.
Kathy Bareiss, Mesa schools spokeswoman, said the fire didn't affect school operations.
Firefighters ventilated the large space for an hour with fans, and then a cleanup company arrived to finish the job, Bareiss said.
A remodeling job was under way, so many of the seats had been removed.
Dunn said if the seats had been installed, then they would have smelled like smoke for a long time.