DENVER (AP/CBS4) – Four students were burned and one suffered serious injuries Monday after a fire erupted in a Denver high school chemistry laboratory while the teacher was conducting a demonstration with methanol, officials said.

Three students were treated and released from hospitals, and the fourth was transferred to another facility because of the extent of the student’s injuries, said Lindsay Neil, a spokeswoman for the Science, Math and Arts Academy charter school.

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The scene on Monday morning (credit: CBS)

The scene on Monday morning (credit: CBS)

Neil said she did not have details on that student’s injuries or condition. Denver Fire Department spokesman Mark Watson said earlier that one youth had serious injuries.

The teacher, Daniel Powell, suffered minor injuries to his hands and declined medical treatment, Neil said. He was put on paid administrative leave, and the school has suspended lab experiments that involve chemicals or flammable materials.

“I can’t believe it,” student Javier Irigoyen, who witnessed the accident said. “(It was) like some type of movie scene.”

The accident occurred on the same day a federal agency recommended schools change the way they perform dangerous experiments.

Too much methanol was used, a member of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said.

“Our understanding is when the jug of methanol was being poured, the flame flashed back into the jug, then projected out about 12 meters right at the student,” Dan Tillema said. “What we keep seeing, time and again, is people are using way too much methanol.”

Tillema said the experiment still works with smaller quantities of methanol. But in each case they had examined, the person conducting the experiment had used a four-liter jug.

“That was a source of a major incident,” he said.

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Chris Gibbons, the chief executive officer of Strive Preparatory Schools, which operates nine charter schools in the Denver system, said no students touched the chemicals or instruments.

It was the second time this month that a fire linked to methanol in a science demonstration caused injuries. Thirteen people, many of them children, were hurt in a flash fire at a Reno, Nevada, museum on Sept. 3. An employee applied chemicals in the wrong order in a demonstration simulating a tornado, officials said.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates chemical accidents, issued a warning Monday against using methanol in laboratory and school demonstrations, citing the Nevada fire. It wasn’t clear if the warning was issued before the Denver fire, which was reported shortly before 8 a.m.

Two inspectors with the board were on their way to the school, spokeswoman Hillary Cohen said.

No students were handling materials when the fire broke out during a chemistry class that included 10th- and 11th-graders, Neil said.

Asked about the purpose of the demonstration, she said, “We’re currently in the process of working with the teacher to understand that as well.”

The teacher had conducted the same demonstration several times over the previous couple of days, Neil said. The teacher’s employment status would be reviewed after investigations by the Fire Department and Denver Public Schools, she said.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Neil said it was Powell’s first year teaching in the network.

The fire appeared to have burned itself out and didn’t spread beyond the lab, said Watson, the fire department spokesman. It set off school alarms, prompting an evacuation, but students later returned to classes.

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