Fire in the Gym Mat Room

Hello Portland, my name is Kevin-Michael Moore and someday I’ll explain the hyphen. I’m an east county boy, raised in Rockwood. A Reynolds Lancer ’78-’82. My Reynolds school was where the Junior High is now on 201st and Halsey, before the Reynolds/ Columbia merger in ’89-’90. Yes, I’ve dated myself.

It’s May 1979. I had just closed my first play, “The Birds” by Aristophanes. I was into Blue Oyster Cult and Blue Oyster Cult only and I have a big game of Dungeons and Dragons waiting for me after school.

It’s seventh period, algebra with Mr. Erdahl (sp.) It’s hot and I hate math (still do). Halfway through class the fire bell rings. Mr. E stops us all in collective Pavlovian retreat by saying something like, “Everyone please sit back down, this is just a drill and I will finish what I’m saying before you all file out.” Mr. E then continues to lecture on for about forty-five seconds or so, until some kid in the back (I think his name was Steve C. but I may be wrong) raises his hand says, in a nasally prepubescent voice, “ Mr. Erdahl—Mr. Eeerrrdahl, there’s black smoke in the hall.”

Appropriate unnecessary panic ensues. One kid, (I think his name was Steve C., but I may be wrong) just could not let the opportunity pass him by and picked up a chair and broke out the window, “so we could escape”. The rest of the class exited through the door at the end of the hallway, our safety twelve feet away.

A couple of buddies and I walked up to 7-11 singing “I’m Burnin’, I’m burnin’ I’m burnin’ for you!” With big gulps in hand (a new thing at the time), we sat across the street and played Dungeons and Dragons as we watched our school burn down.

The fire was said to have started in the gym mat room; a couple of kids smoking. Once the fire started there was no way to put it out. Because, as one fireman was quoted, ‘the mat material just liquefies like rubber’. The fire was so hot that it boiled all of the water out of the swimming pool and melted the mortar holding the bricks of the three story gymnasium.

I remember, (and this is for all of the nerds out there that get it) I rolled a “ONE” just before we watched the gym wall collapse, so, I blame myself.

5 Responses to Fire in the Gym Mat Room

  1. Robin Jepson December 29, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    I remember the fire well. I, and a few other people were in Ben Keller’s office with the door closed. The office was next to the Drama room When the alarm went off, we of course ignored it. By the time we realized that it was real there was so much black smoke billowing down the hall that we had to get on our hands and knees to find our way out. It felt like everything was going in slow motion. I learned a valuable lesson that day, always pay attention to fire alarms. Lol.

    Thanks for sharing Kevin!

  2. Sylvia Cole December 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    My girlfriend and I had gone up to Seattle for a few days to see the King Tut exhibit that week. She lived right across from the High School on 201st. When we got home we saw that the gym had burned down. We were the last class to graduate in the old gym. Class of ’78.

  3. P.Pimentel December 21, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    good story. I wanna party w/ Steve C. because his quick thinking and decisive actions in breaking the window saved countless lives.

  4. Jacki Leach September 28, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Go, Lancers! Raiders is a bit…feeble, don’t you think? I, too, was raised in the Rockwood area, when it was nice; typical suburbia. But, now…sad sad sad.

  5. Brian Pierce July 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    We were in the Electronics Lab that had the windows facing the “Big Gym” outside wall. I ended up sitting on the bleachers at the football field watching it burn and thinking “where the hell are we going to graduate at now?”. I was in the class of ’80. I sat there watching smoke billow out of the roof access building on top and stayed there watching it until after the roof had caved in.

    We had to have the graduation at MHCC instead of the school.

    BTW – I could see Mr. Erdahl doing that!

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