Kansas community rallies to save prom after fire

By: Jason Tarr, Paul Meister Email
By: Jason Tarr, Paul Meister Email

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LACROSSE, Kan. -- The night before prom, all the decorations were set up in the gymnasium at la Crosse High School. But after a fire early Saturday morning, most of those decorations were lost. Most of the floor was covered in tarps—over all of the burned areas. So, they had to come up with a solution fast to save the prom.

Head of school maintenance Rich Leiker was first on scene when the alarm went off at 4:00 in the morning.

“I got me a fire extinguisher out of the hallway and made headways,” he said.

The fire chief who arrived at the school soon after said Leiker’s efforts probably kept the flames from getting out of control. But the damage was done, and students were shocked. It appeared the two weeks they’d spent turning the gym into their prom venue was lost.

“Considering I helped decorate it, I didn’t know what to think,” said promgoer Marissa Wagner. “ I was kind of mind-blown that we did all that work and it just burnt down.”

After a preliminary investigation, Superintendent Bill Keeley said a spotlight in the gym likely caught some of the prom decorations on fire. And as the smoke still hung in the hallways, school administrators met to figure out how to still pull off prom that night.

“Everybody was ready for prom,” Keeley said. “Our students were ready, and our kids were ready. We just wanted to make it special for them.”

Administrators, community volunteers, and students banded together. They went to local stores for supplies and helped decorate a new venue: the town’s parish center just down the street.

And when the clock hit six, the students promenaded in, dressed to the nines, impressed with what they saw once inside.

"The fact that they had eight hours to put this together from nothing, it's awesome," promgoer Erica Gilbert said.

It was a memorable prom, their smiles and excitement making it all worth it for the people of La Crosse.

"We made the best out of a tough situation," Keeley said.

Previous story:

A Kansas high school was damaged in a fire early Saturday morning.

The fire was reported just after 4 a.m. at La Crosse High School. That's in the 400 block of Washington Street in the Rush County town of La Crosse.

Sheriff Ward Corsair said the fire started in the gymnasium, where preparations for prom had been underway. No one was in the school at the time of the fire.

Corsair said the gym suffered heavy smoke and fire damage. However, a dollar estimate has yet to be determined.

The cause is under investigation, but officials do not suspect foul play.

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