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Fire at Sterling College gym cancels game

Published on -2/7/2014, 1:37 PM

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STERLING, Kan. (AP) -- A fire possibly sparked by a blowtorch used to melt ice forced the evacuation of up to 400 people from a central Kansas college gym just minutes before a men's basketball game was due to start, a school spokesman said.

Sterling's Gleason Center filled with smoke and flames licked up the walls of the gym forcing the postponement of the scheduled game between Sterling and Tabor colleges Thursday evening, the Hutchinson News (http://bit.ly/1fErott ) reported. No one was hurt.

"When we were trying to thaw some pipes earlier today, we had some water leaking," said Sterling sports information director Hans Nickel. "We think we caught the building on fire, but we're going to wait and see after the investigation because we really aren't 100 percent sure what happened. We were using a blowtorch to try to help thaw the ice. It probably caught something on the inside on fire and it kind of festered."

The game initially was delayed for 30 minutes and all spectators were asked to leave while the maintenance staff looked for the source of the smoke. The Sterling Fire Department was called after the flames appeared on the west wall.

Firefighters removed tin, plywood and particle board inside the gym to extinguish the smoldering fire, Sterling Fire Chief Richard Jones said.

The game was postponed and likely will be played somewhere else.

Sterling College President Scott Rich said he was proud of the way the spectators left the area when instructed.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

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