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Fire at Mt. Hood College destroys chiller

A second chiller is used to keep college cool Monday and classes go uninterrupted.
by: John Klicker, Roy Holmes, maintenance worker, had just thrown the power switch to turn on the massive twin air conditioners Friday morning, July 21, when he heard a rumble and a ball of flames engulfed one of the air conditioners. Holmes said, “I thought the whole place was going to blow up.”

Officials at Mt. Hood Community College worried this weekend that the college might not be cool enough to hold classes after a Friday, July 21, fire destroyed half the college's cooling system.

'Right now we're just keeping our fingers crossed,' said Al Sigala, college spokesman, Monday afternoon. 'We were able to operate today.'

The fire destroyed a 36-year-old chiller, but an overhead sprinkler system deployed in time to save the college's second chiller.

That machine has been working overtime to keep the community college cool during the heat wave.

'The second chiller is doing OK right now,' Sigala said.

A mechanical failure of aging equipment is being blamed for the fire and college leaders, who are bringing a bond to the public this November to fix aging facilities on the Gresham campus, say the fire is 'another example of the stress the aging facility is facing.'

This past winter, a 120-foot lighting structure collapsed at the college's stadium, the result of a structural failure.

Sigala said Friday's fire could have been much worse.

'There was an employee present when the fire broke out, and he said he thought the whole place was going to go up after seeing the size of the flames,' Sigala said. 'Fortunately, the fire suppression system did its job and contained the fire to that one piece of machinery.'

Mt. Hood's president, Dr. Robert Silverman, said the college hoped to keep things running at the Gresham campus.

'With temperatures expected to remain hot today, we are hopeful the remaining system will be able to keep the facility relatively comfortable,' Silverman said Monday.